NZI raising awareness around drowsy driving

NZI raising awareness around drowsy driving

NZI raising awareness around drowsy driving | Insurance Business New Zealand

Motor & Fleet

NZI raising awareness around drowsy driving

NZI knows first-hand that fatigue can strike anytime – but that only makes its message more genuine

Motor & Fleet

Bennett Richardson

This article was produced in partnership with NZI

When NZI began researching links between commercial driver fatigue and accident rates, the last thing it expected to find was an undiagnosed sleep disorder in one of its own risk managers.

But that is exactly what happened.

This was a sobering reminder of how risks around driver safety often go under the radar – even at an insurer on a mission to mitigate risks to drivers through promoting better sleep habits.

According to the Ministry of Health, some other common sleep problems that can go unnoticed or ignored include insomnia, restless leg syndrome, or circadian rhythm disorders related to shift work.

“Something that has historically been underserved, particularly in the transport industry, is the risk of undiagnosed sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea,” says Oliver Jepson, NZI National Manager, Motor.

As part of its Fleet Fit range of programmes focusing on fostering a strong safety culture for drivers, NZI partners with a fatigue and sleep specialist who can run sleep studies on individuals identified as being at high risk of sleep apnoea. 

“As a result of this partnership, we’ve found seven cases of drivers – including one of our own Fleet Risk Managers – suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnoea and have been able to support them into interventions such as CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines,” he says. 

Jepson says that the discovery of the condition and subsequent treatment helped these patients get a better night’s sleep, not only improving their driving but also their home life. 

Burning the candle at both ends

Sleep disorders are only one side of the problem of driver fatigue. A sleep study  lists the other major cause of drowsy drivers on the road as an ‘acute effect’ where a person stays awake for longer than 18 hours.

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Shift length is a key contributing factor that can increase the risk of fatigue. In New Zealand it is legal, and common, for commercial drivers to do 14-hour shifts (13 hours driving plus two half-hour breaks), to a cumulative work period of 70 hours. This is followed by one 24-hour break, and then the cycle begins again.

The cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep results in a sleep debt which can lead to mental and physical exhaustion.

Research also shows that driving while drowsy can have the same consequences as driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol: drowsiness is similar to alcohol in how it compromises driving ability by reducing alertness and attentiveness, delaying reaction times, and hindering decision-making skills.

Drowsy driving usually occurs at high speeds and the driver is sometimes unable to avoid a crash, resulting in serious accidents. A US study shows that a drowsy driver was involved in an estimated 6% of all crashes in which a vehicle was towed from the scene, 7% of crashes in which a person received treatment for injuries sustained in the crash, 13% of crashes in which a person was hospitalized, and 21% of crashes in which a person died.

While it may be legal in New Zealand to roster drivers to work the maximum shift, NZI points out to employers as part of its Fleet Fit programme that it may not be in the best interests of their safety or of the business.

Encouraging a pit stop and raising awareness

NZI runs a number of roadside events known as ‘NZI Truckie Rest Zones’ every year to encourage truck drivers to take a break. These pop up at weigh stations and other prominent spots to give truckies a chance to take a break in an area suitable for parked trucks, as well as enjoy a healthy snack and refreshment. Health and wellbeing information is provided, and Waka Kotahi are also on-site delivering important safety messages.

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“We’ve partnered with Hato Hone St John who share our passion for resilient healthy drivers, and offer free, on the spot, health check-ups,” adds Jepson.

“To date, we’ve supported over 650 truckies who have pulled their rigs into the NZI Truckie Rest Zones, to enjoy a break and free health check-up before getting back on the road.”

The Fleet Fit programme has a range of initiatives, including Safety Awareness Seminars, data insights, and education designed to support drivers and business owners with an NZI Commercial Vehicle Policy through promoting awareness of issues like drowsy driving and educating drivers about steps to remedy any problems.

“It all starts with a free, no obligation one hour chat with their broker and one of NZI’s (well rested) Fleet Risk Managers who conveniently meet them at their place of business.  This initial Fleet Fit Review will ask some simple questions to gain insight on the business that helps to identify any potential blind spots or risks,” says Jepson.

Following the meeting, the Fleet Risk Manager will suggest options that the business could look at to support safety and improve fleet performance. Some initiatives are available on a trial basis, free of charge for NZI qualifying customers.

“Our Fleet Risk Managers have years of experience giving advice and recommendations on fleet management. They’ll visit you, wherever you are in New Zealand, to understand how we can work together to make your business safer.”

Knowing your physical limits

While some people claim to get by on as little as four or five hours sleep each night, sleep experts say that most people are much less alert and productive than normal without a good night’s rest.

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With work often starting very early in the morning, long shifts and a possible commute in the mix, commercial drivers may forgo hitting the sack at the optimal time to allow a decent sleep, especially if family members are living their lives according to a more normal schedule.

NZI sees the transport sector as integral to economic prosperity and understands that the commercial drivers who move goods around the country are all too human, not only in their need for sleep, but also as they deal with the pressures of sticking to tough schedules and being present for their loved ones. Making sure everyone gets home safely is fundamental to keeping the system humming.

“NZI is a long-term supporter of the transport sector, and we are proud to be delivering initiatives that contribute to keeping the industry resilient, profitable and thriving into the future,” says Jepson.

Established in 1859, NZI is one of New Zealand’s longest serving insurance companies and a leading provider of business insurance. NZI provides around 300,000 customers across New Zealand with the confidence to grow and be successful. As an intermediated insurer, NZI works with broker partners to give business customers specialist knowledge and expertise in areas including commercial property insurance, commercial motor vehicle insurance, construction insurance, corporate insurance, liability cover, marine insurance and rural insurance. NZI’s personal lines include car, home, contents and boat insurance. NZI is proudly backed by IAG New Zealand, the largest general insurer in the country.

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