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Assessing a heavy vehicle driver’s fitness to drive

November 8, 2018


Under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) and some Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws, parties in the Chain of Responsibility (CoR) may have a legal obligation to assess a driver’s fitness to drive.

4 compliance considerations for driver fitness for duty

  1. Licensing
  2. Fatigue compliance
  3. Being drug-free and not exceeding any applicable alcohol limits
  4. Medical fitness

Factors affecting driving

There are a number of further commercial considerations for heavy vehicle drivers under the HVNL, which include (but are not limited to):

  • Business requirements: Rosters (shifts), driver training and contractual demands;
  • Legal requirements: Work diaries and licensing procedures; Vehicle issues: Size, stability and load distribution;
  • Passenger requirements/issues: including the number of passengers; and
  • Endurance/fatigue and vigilance: Demands associated with spending long periods on the road.

How to test a driver’s fitness to drive

Depending on the individual situation, your assessments should generally involve evaluating some or all of the following:

  1. The need for specialised equipment or vehicle modifications;
  2. The driver’s ability to control the motor vehicle;
  3. The driver’s functional status, including cognitive function, physical strength and skills, reaction time, insight level and ability to self-monitor their driving;
  4. The driver‘s lifestyle and the nature, frequency and requirement for driving; and
  5. The driver’s understanding and application of road laws.

One way to evaluate the above, in particular (a) and (d), is to have your driver fill in a self-assessment form, such as a driver health questionnaire. This will help identify conditions that might affect a person’s capacity to drive safely and is a starting point regarding the person’s fitness to drive a commercial vehicle until a full clinical examination can be performed.

What to ask your driver

Some simple key questions you can ask your driver before undertaking any work-related tasks include:

  • How are you feeling?
  • Did you have enough sleep?
  • When was your last working shift?
  • When is your next working shift?
  • Have you consumed any alcohol or drugs in the past 24 hours?

These questions appear obvious, but they are often overlooked, and they can prevent unnecessary accidents or incidents from occurring.

Observations you should be making

Certain drivers may not feel comfortable speaking the truth if they are aware of the ramifications. Therefore, it is also important to make thorough physical observations of drivers from a fatigue perspective.

Without having a health professional on-site to conduct a medical examination of the driver’s fitness for duty, you could look at:

  • The driver’s posture while they are standing

If they are slouched and appear without energy, it may suggest that they are not alert and are unfit to drive.

  • The driver’s eyes

Look for frequent blinking and/or droopy eyelids, which can suggest a lack of sleep.

  • The breath of the driver

Does it smell of alcohol or are there signs of drug consumption?

If you have an unfit driver who is involved in an accident, the implications for the driver and the company can be significant – you could face not only civil but also criminal liability.

It is essential that all companies have adequate systems and procedures in place to monitor, detect and test a driver’s fitness to drive.

Also, drivers themselves should ensure they are fit to drive. Apart from exposing themselves and others to risk of injury, drivers who drive knowing that they are unfit may also expose themselves to penalty or civil liability in the event of an accident.

Have you met all of your obligations under the CoR?

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Written in plain English by the transport lawyers at Holding Redlich, CoR Adviser is a monthly newsletter and online resource that covers all areas pertaining to the CoR laws that affect companies and individuals operating in the heavy vehicle transport and logistics industries.

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