Mandatory rest for lorry drivers could save lives

Simple changes to lorry rules on pay and mandatory rest times could make our roads less hazardous to navigate.

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Driver error and brake failure were the official causes for the lorry crash in Al Ain last month that killed 21 people, though the accident highlighted other important issues related to lorry safety.

Yet one important consideration - driver fatigue - has received scant attention. As The National reports today, there are simple changes that drivers say could ensure they operate rigs more safely and, in the process, make our roads less hazardous to navigate.

Many lorry drivers are paid by the hour or per completed trip, which drives them to work longer so they can fit more deliveries into the day and earn more money. Others are paid per delivery and speed to make more trips in a day. Taken together these considerations often mean that drivers push themselves and their vehicles.

But this simple calculus affects their ability to concentrate on the road and diminishes their ability to assess risk quickly. In turn, the lives of other motorists and pedestrians are endangered.

Consider the tragic crash in January 2010, near Tarif west of the capital. A fatigued lorry driver crashed his vehicle into a roadside restaurant, killing five people. Police later said inattentiveness and a loss of concentration led to the accident. Would those victims - lorry drivers themselves - still be alive if the driver was adequately rested?

Lorry drivers suggest that setting a fixed monthly wage could help greatly in addressing the issue and motivate drivers to drive more safely. In several countries there are mandatory rest times and drive limits. In the United States, for instance, lorry operators must take 10 consecutive hours off after driving for 11 hours. Similar rules exists in the European Union, where drivers must have 11 rest hours per day, including 9 hours consecutively. They are also required to take a total of 45 minutes rest for every four and half hours on the road.

Similar rules in the UAE could prevent many road accidents. And since lorries travel across borders, an argument can be made for cooperation between GCC states to ensure enforcement.

Fallout from the Al Ain accident has already led to legal overhauls. Cargo limit laws have been reviewed, for instance, and Dubai Police announced that they will soon start a hot-line for complaints about reckless driving.

It's easy to blame lorry drivers for such accidents. But an effort also needs to be made to address the underlying causes.