WA truck drivers who crash are often driving tired because of pressure from tight deadlines and almost half of them had serious sleep problems, research has found.
The Curtin Monash Accident Research Centre is set to release its final findings from a national study into the health, work scheduling, vehicle characteristics and sleep patterns of 200 WA truckies, comparing groups who had and had not been in a crash in the previous 12 months.
Associate Professor Lynn Meuleners, who led the research in WA, said 24 per cent of drivers had reported having trouble staying awake while driving within the past month, while 42 per cent were found to have sleep apnoea.
The research also found that WA drivers who drove the bulk of their journey at night and had less than 10 years experience were more likely to crash.
Dr Meuleners said the findings regarding driver fatigue raised concerns about road safety.
"If you're driving tired, that's not a good thing," she said.
In the week before their crash or interview, 59 per cent of drivers had worked 60 or more hours, she said.
Dr Meuleners said truck drivers were often tired because of factors out of their control, such as unrealistic delivery deadlines.
"There is a lot of pressure," she said.
"The findings do reflect that heavy vehicle drivers are poorly paid - take-home pay is 10 per cent lower than the average Australian salary - and work long hours covering vast distances.
"Truckies work many unpaid hours and operate under challenging work conditions." Dr Meuleners said the study also painted a worrying picture of the group's overall health - 48 per cent of WA truckies surveyed smoked and 83 per cent were overweight or obese.
She said though there had been considerable reform in the industry, she hoped the study would encourage companies to make better scheduling decisions and reduce the amount of night driving.
Transport Workers Union WA assistant secretary Rick Burton said some truckies were keeping quiet about sleep apnoea, despite it being treatable.
Mr Burton said companies should do more to support truck drivers.
Trucking company operator John Leeds, who operates nine trucks in his long-distance cattle transport business, said he tried to ensure his employees had time for sufficient sleep.
There was little doubt some clients in the trucking industry had unrealistic expectations that put operators under pressure.
He said employees also had a responsibility to ensure they took care of their health and were aware of fatigue management.
'Truckies work many unpaid hours and operate under challenging work conditions.' " Associate Professor *Lynn Meuleners *