Comment: What's causing truck crashes?


Work demands and time pressures, driver distraction, fatigue, and mental health and stress are some of the causes of truck crashes

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Every year, approximately 1.35 million people are killed in road accidents worldwide and up to 50 million are injured—a sobering statistic. In the last 12 months, 341 people have been killed on New Zealand roads. In 2019, 67 people were killed and 208 were seriously injured in crashes involving trucks.

So, what are some of the contributing factors?

Safety culture: This is heavily influenced by how you manage your business and your commitment to a safety-first culture that includes driver training, safe scheduling, and adhering to driving hours regulations. Driver perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs are all factors that need to be influenced.

Work demands and time pressures: These have a direct influence on driver behaviour that can result in incentivising risky driving behaviours and are also identified in driver health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart problems, depression, mental health, and stress.

Driver distraction: This can be one of the most significant influences on road safety outcomes and is often linked to other factors, including fatigue, monotony of driving, driving alone, and business practices.

Fatigue: Fatigue significantly increases the risk of drivers having a crash that results in fatality or serious injury. Long hours and shift work are proven factors in fatigue or chronic fatigue. Fatigue increases the risk of poor health outcomes.

Mental health and stress: Truck drivers can work under stressful conditions that can compound mental health disorders, poor health, and unhealthy lifestyles. Sleep duration and sleep quality are contributing factors to driver stress.

Seat belt use: Failure to wear a seat belt while driving significantly increases the risk of death or serious injury in a truck crash. Driver perceptions and myths about seat belt use need to be challenged and dispelled.

Speed: Excessive speed can have dire consequences on a crash outcome. Influencing factors include driver behaviour, time-related pressures, and other road user behaviour.

Road conditions and poor road maintenance: Poor roads damage trucks with increased truck maintenance, increased fuel use, and tyre damage. They also significantly increase the risk for drivers with stress, fatigue, and physical strain caused by increased jolting and vibration. Exposure to prolonged whole-body vibration are risk factors for spinal disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, muscle fatigue, sprains, and strains.

Looking after your driver after a truck crash

If you or your driver has been involved in a serious crash, it’s important that you take the right steps to help the driver to recover. Don’t be scared to ask your driver if they are OK.

For your driver, knowing that they have your care and support will certainly help speed up their recovery. If you’re worried or concerned about your driver’s mental health, then you should consider referring them to a mental health professional (trauma counsellor) for an assessment and any necessary treatment. The old Kiwi adage of expecting them to just harden up is not going to help them recover in the long term.

If you’ve been involved in a serious crash and are having difficulty coping with the emotional trauma, you may have some form of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you think this may be you, then it’s critically important that you seek help sooner than later.

Talk to your employer and talk to your doctor or medical practitioner, who will be able to prescribe medication and refer you to a trauma counsellor for treatment. If you or your driver needs counselling, ACC will partially fund counselling relating to the psychological and emotional effects of accidents and other events that result in physical injury, temporary or permanent disability, or mental trauma.

Some of the symptoms that you need to consider:

  • Not feeling yourself, problems engaging with people, feeling numb, life is like a haze.
  • Sleep apnoea, difficulty falling asleep, don’t want to get out of bed, having nightmares.
  • Keep reliving the accident; it’s the only thing you are thinking about.
  • You are highly stressed, suffering from health problems including high blood pressure and upset stomach.
  • Suffering depression, guilt, and shame, feeling like the whole world is coming to an end.
  • Have an inability to drive or perform your normal tasks, fear of going to certain places.
  • Memory loss, can’t remember the accident, or certain parts of it.
  • Irritable, temperamental, and a feeling that you’re going to explode with the slightest provocation.
  • Finding it difficult in close relationships with family, partners, and friends. It’s normal to feel some sense of anxiety or some minor mental health changes after an accident. These should all diminish over time. If these symptoms persist for more than a month, then you should get an assessment for PTSD, especially if these symptoms are stopping you from functioning normally on a daily basis. Being involved in an accident that harms another person can be one of the most distressing experiences anyone can imagine. Learning to cope can be challenging. There are many things that you can do to help yourself:
  • Don’t be hard on yourself; the emotions you’re going through are perfectly natural.
  • There’s light at the end of the tunnel; things will get better with time.
  • Don’t be scared to ask for help; it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength that you’re taking control of the situation. Talk to family and friends, and seek professional help starting with your own doctor.
  • Alcohol and drugs are not the answer. If you need help to cope, ask your doctor for some medication.

Look after your health with regular exercise and a healthy diet

The big thing to remember with traumatic experiences is that people react differently. Some drivers are affected to such an extent that they will never drive again, where others with a bit of support and treatment will put it behind them and get on with life.

Mental Health Organisation: mentalhealth.org.nz or 09 623 4810
Healthline: 0800 611 116 (Available 24/7)
Lifeline: 0800 543 354  

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