Anonymous truckie speaks out about deadly working conditions

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While substance abuse within Australia's trucking industry has been largely cleaned up, inadequate rest breaks are endangering a new generation of truck drivers - and everyone who shares the road with them, according to this whistle-blower.

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In the trucking business, they say ‘diesel runs in your veins’ and that’s certainly true for my family. My dad was a truckie, my brothers are truckies, I got behind the wheel at 15 and I’m still doing it today - 43 years later.

Some people think we get paid to look out the window. The truth is, it's one of the most deadly jobs in the country. 

I’ve been awake for 48 hours straight hundreds of times in my life.

I went six days once with only six hours of sleep. If you tried to do that today without taking medication you'd die. And if we die, we more often than not take some poor motorist out with us.

Back in the day, most truckies, myself included, took stimulants to help us avoid that disaster scenario. A truckie who told you he didn’t use drugs was like a bloke who says he doesn’t masturbate.

Today, however, with the arrival of random drug tests, the use of stimulants isn't the problem it used to be.

Most long-haul truck drivers have a condition we refer to as a 'truck driver’s arsehole'... 

But the need to stay awake is still an issue without a solution. Sleep deprivation is more prevalent now than it has ever been.

The industry has tried to enforce rules to combat sleep deprivation but they’ve just put a BandAid on a gaping wound.

Today, by law, every 24 hours you have to take a seven-hour continuous break. This sounds like a good thing, but it’s just one of those OH&S rules cooked up by people who don’t know what it’s actually like on the road. 

We’d prefer to take a break when we actually feel tired. We’re not robots.

It used to be that we were required to have a minimum of five-hours sleep, so you could have a shorter break and take them more often.

Now you have drivers on the road going longer without sleep because they have to factor in their seven-hour continuous break if they want to make it to their destination by deadline.

Flexibility to choose when, and where we sleep is better for everyone.

The sleep deprivation in our industry has massive flow on effects.

The biggest impact is depression. I’m a happy-go-lucky guy. I wake up every day in a good mood, but if I start to sense the black dog creeping in, I know I need to sleep. Lack of sleep drives me to that end zone of depression. I also, like most others, have an almost non-existent short-term memory thanks to years of sleep deprivation.

Then there’s the diet. When I was on a long trip, I would shovel down pretty much anything that was on offer along the highway roadhouse. Many of the old roadhouses have closed down because most truckies don't have time to stop when they're racing between capital cities - especially since trucks now roll out of the factory with 100km p/hr speed limiters installed. 

We don’t eat enough fiber, drink enough water, or get enough exercise.

The industry has tried to enforce rules to combat sleep deprivation but they’ve just put a BandAid on a gaping wound.

This poor diet affects bowel motions. It’s something blokes won’t address but it’s a massive issue. Most long-haul truck drivers have a condition we refer to as 'a truck driver’s arsehole'. They spend more time than the average person sitting on the toilet because they suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, or any amount of gut-related issues brought about by poor diet and decreased blood flow. And any seasoned long distance truck driver will tell you, the issue only gets worse the more grey hairs you get on your head.

Things need to change

How we get paid is a massive issue. Currently the more kilometers you drive, the more money you make. This needs to change. If we pay by the hour – instead of by the kilometer – drivers wouldn't feel the need to push themselves beyond their limit.

Companies also need to take responsibility. They paint themselves as holier than thou but in reality they’re the devil in disguise.

It’s time they realise that good drivers aren't cheap, and cheap drivers aren't good. A new breed of unsuitables are getting behind the wheel and steering trucks into the night, and into other trucks and cars.

Companies also get contracts by promising clients quicker deliveries for less money. The timeframes are crazy – try Melbourne to Brisbane in 22 hours. Completing that job while sticking to the law is almost impossible.

The only person who is winning is the customer. They get their products faster and at a lower rate. But this makes the truck driver’s job so much more dangerous and everyone out there on the road is losing.

After a lifetime of driving interstate, most of us get to a stage where we see things that we know are dangerous, but no-one is listening to us, no-one wants to hear the things that we know can make a difference.

Until they start listening, we’ll continue to see drivers die, and take innocent motorists with them.

* The Interstate Truckie is a pen name used by the author.

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Source SBS Insight