Driver fatigue is a real issue and authorities estimate that driver fatigue accounts for almost twenty percent of the national road toll in Australia. The Transport Roads and Traffic Authority has launched driver fatigue advertising campaigns in an attempt to educate drivers to the early warning signs of fatigue and to Stop. Revive. Survive.
There are a vast number of people who rely on public transport in Australia. Buses are one of the major forms of public transport. As driver fatigue is such an issue, the aim of this article is to examine the unique nature of fatigue experienced by urban bus drivers.
Fatigue is difficult to observe but the early warning signs are recognizable. Yawning, tired eyes, restlessness and drowsiness seem the most obvious. The causes of fatigue include inadequate rest, extended periods of concentration, boredom and STRESS. The sometimes disastrous effects include failure to stay within lanes, fluctuations of speed, impaired reaction times and falling asleep at the wheel.
Metropolitan bus driving is one of the more stressful occupations and surprisingly with one of the lowest monetary recompense. This stress is because of the nature of the work. They are considered professional drivers and the pressure is on them to drive safely and to maintain tight and often unrealistic schedules. There are external factors such as variations in traffic that affect their performance and bus drivers often have no control over this environment. Research suggests that this type of mental and physical strain contributes significantly to driver fatigue in commercial drivers.
The common misconception is that the bus driver’s only responsibility is to transport commuters from point A to point B. Metaphorically speaking, the fine print in this contract includes the handling of money, ticketing and dealing with the general public. Each of these areas then have their own sub-clauses.
- Dealing with cash can be stressful enough on its own. At the end of the day the driver is required to balance the books. The driver is expected to look after the money and it is not uncommon for a bus driver to be confronted by a thief and robbed. In some cases they are then expected to carry their cash tin to their car after their shift rather than leave it in a secure locker at the depot. Why? Because the employer did not provide lockers for the drivers.
- Drivers are required to issue tickets based on authorized concessions. They are also required to validate tickets before allowing the entry of passengers.
- Dealing with the public is often an underestimated challenge. There are your everyday requests for directions and sometimes there are language barriers. Drivers are sometimes needed to assist the disabled and the elderly. They also have to deal with the undesirable, aggressive type of passengers who may deal out a certain amount of verbal or even physical abuse.
All of this interaction is mentally and physically draining.
Other factors causing fatigue to bus drivers are:
- The exposure to heat and glare caused by the design of windshields in the buses
- Inadequate air conditioning and temperature control within the drivers cabin and in the passenger area of the bus. The exposure to heat and the inevitable complaints from the passengers also have a negative impact on the performance of the driver.
- Driver seats are often ergonomically inadequate causing back and neck pain. The steering wheels on the buses being manufactured more economically are sometimes too large for the less physical drivers. These have caused shoulder problems which result in chronic pain and inadequate control over the heavy vehicle. Continuous exposure to pain result in higher levels of physical fatigue over time.
Some of the above issues could be resolved with adequate support from management. Positive relationships with management result in better job satisfaction and safer working environment. There are instances of unrealistic tight route schedules where drivers attempt to adhere to timetables with little allowance for delays caused by variations to traffic conditions. There are cases of pay cuts rather than pay rises and an erosion of their conditions relating to toilet and shower facilities and lunch rooms.
There is a domino effect when it comes to bus driving and stress and it all begins at the top. Driving a bus itself is a serious enough challenge. When bus drivers must contend with management for a basic level of pay, conditions and adequate equipment, they tend to consider that their safety is considered only secondary to the overall operation. Stress and fatigue are closely linked and potentially the result is disastrous.