Driving - maximum kms or hours?

There is no specific legislation in OHS legislation on this issue, and it's not possible to give a specific number of hours or kilometres that would be "ok" for people, because so many things need to be taken into account. 

Many people drive as part of their jobs: driving heavy vehicles; delivering goods or services; getting from one place to another; etc.

For drivers of heavy vehicles there IS legislation: under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (go to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator website to access the legislation and more information). The law is now in place in  Victoria, as well as in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania - it does not apply in Western Australia or the Northern Territory (see below). 

These laws cover all aspects of work and rest relating to heavy vehicles including:

  • work and rest hours
  • recording work and rest times
  • fatigue management exemptions, and
  • Chain of Responsibility obligations.

This law is the result of reforms over the past few years, with initial legislation implemented in September 2008, which set revised work and rest limits for heavy vehicle drivers and require better management of driver fatigue. The law makes all parties in the supply chain legally responsible for preventing driver fatigue. It provides three work hours options, linked to safety, that operators can choose from to suit their business. The new laws are consistent with current obligations under Occupational/Work Health and Safety (OHS) laws that also require employers and employees take all reasonably practicable steps to manage driver fatigue.  

There is a section on the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator site which deals specifically with Safety, accreditation and compliance information on  Fatigue Management  with subsections 'About Fatigue Management' ; 'Work and Rest requirements' and more.  Nevertheless, even when there is no specific legislation, the employer has a duty of care under Victorian OHS Act to provide and maintain a healthy and safe workplace, systems of work, plant and so on for all employees. In the case of employees who are required to drive, the following factors (at least) need to be considered in order to try to ensure that fatigue levels are minimised:
  • hours 'on the road' (not only those driving)
  • driving conditions (traffic, country roads, etc)
  • time of day/night
  • overall length of working day
  • type and state of vehicle (certain vehicles are covered under the Road Safety Act)
  • potential of worker being stranded if car breaks down/accident
  • what other work they were also doing (eg physical work, like loading/unloading; emotionally demanding work - eg dealing with difficult "clients", potential of violence, etc)
  • past incidents (not only accidents and near misses, but incidents of violence/potential incidents, reports of stress, etc)
  • discussions with relevant unions
  • Clauses in the relevant Award, Enterprise or Workplace Agreement

Western Australia and the Northern Territory

This advice was provided by the NHVR: Western Australia (WA) and the Northern Territory (NT) do not have the same fatigue laws as the other states and territories.

WA: All operators entering WA must be ensure their drivers meet the requirements of the WA Commercial Vehicle Driver Regulations in order to operate under the WA fatigue system. This includes completing the Worksafe WA online assessment. All operators of RAV combinations must be a member WAHVA (in addition to WA Commercial Vehicle Driver Regulations requirements) to use the WA fatigue system.

NT: The Northern Territory does not regulate driving hours under transport law. The NT has adopted an outcome-based approach to managing driver fatigue. Under the NT Workplace Health and Safety Act, employers have an obligation to provide a safe workplace, which does not endanger workers or others. However operators complying with national regulations by adopting one of the National Heavy Driver Fatigue options (Standard, Basic and Advance), will ensure they are meeting their OH&S obligations in NT.

Shift-work and car accidents

Shift-work is the greatest sleep-related factor contributing to motor vehicle accidents, an Australian study has found.  The lead author of the study said that sleepiness, particularly related to shift-work, needs to be emphasised as a risk factor for motor vehicle collisions.  He added that the results showed employers need to look after shift-workers better — suggesting 10-hour breaks between shifts, limited weekly rosters and taxis home from work.

If driving and fatigue is an issue at your workplace, then there should be a meeting between management and all the OHS reps and relevant unions to consider all the above, and develop a policy and procedures.

More information

On this site: a Vehicle Inspection Checklist

WorkSafe Victoria:

WorkSafe Western Australia seems to be one jurisdiction which has some guidance materials which may assist:

Fatigue and Road Transport

Other useful materials:

  • The UK Health and Safety Executive (the equivalent of the WorkSafe Victoria)
    • a guide Driving at Work - Managing work-related road safety [pdf]. While the advice on legal responsibility is specific to the UK, the publication contains advice on managing work-related road safety and on integrating it into existing health and safety arrangements.
    • Vehicles at work checklist - What employers should consider to reduce the risk from vehicles in the workplace.
  • Other useful publications from UK accident prevention group RoSPA in a driving for work series are written for employers, particularly line managers, and are available free online (pdf files). These are:
    • Driving for work: Safer speeds policy [pdf]
    • Driving for work: Mobile phones [pdf]
    • Driver distraction
    • Driving for work: Safe journey planning [pdf
  • The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Network for Employers for Traffic Safety has published a 32 page booklet Guidelines for Employers to Reduce Motor Vehicle Crashes [pdf]. It contains information to assist employers in designing an effective driver safety program to keep employees safe on the road.
  • And for a bit of fun, a couple of NAPO films from the EU-OSHA:
    • Napo in ... on the road to safety - The film takes a light-hearted look at topics including maintenance, adverse weather and using alternatives to driving when appropriate. It highlights the importance of good planning and preparation, including safe cargo loading, planning the most efficient route and allowing enough time to safely complete a journey.
    • Napo in ... safe moves about workplace transport
 Last updated May 2020