Author: Ellen Quirke
Date: Tue, 28 Jul 2020

The Work-Time Rule Exceptions That Put Road Users At Risk

While there are no restrictions in place to prevent the general public from driving fatigued like there is for drink driving, there are regulations for commercial drivers. However, did you know not every commercial driver in New Zealand has to follow the same rules?

The New Zealand work-time and logbook requirements were updated in 2017 and are designed to minimise the occurrence of fatigue for commercial drivers.

If you don’t already know, the standard work time rules are as follows:

  • After 5.5 hours of being “on-duty,” a 30min rest-break is required
  • A “cumulative work day” can have a maximum of 13 hours of work (on-duty) time and must include a continuous 10-hour rest break. This has to be completed within a 24 hour period.
  • A “cumulative work period” is the sum of all the work (on-duty) time completed between two continuous 24 hour rest periods and can be no longer than 70 hours total.

On the surface, the work-time rules are fairly straight-forward and appear to set out clear expectations on what is safe and effective for commercial drives to manage their fatigue. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. There are two key exceptions (and many other smaller ones) to these work-time requirements that increase the risk to other road users. These apply to Small Passenger Service Drivers and Light Vehicle Short-Haul Goods Drivers (couriers services).

Small Passenger Service Industry

In 2017, with the continued growth of the rideshare industry in New Zealand, there was a push to standardised legal requirements across the entire small passenger service industry. This included taxis, rideshares, shuttles, charters etc.

However, with the introduction of the new work-time rules, a Small Passenger Service exemption was included, which meant that:

  • Small passenger service drivers could work for 7 hours of continuous work time (rather than 5.5 hours) before requiring 30min rest, provided they have only undertaken short fares around a city or town.
  • A short fare means a single fare where the distance between pick-up and drop-off is less than 100km.
  • This exemption was included because it was assumed that Small Passenger Service Drivers are likely to have short periods of downtime in-between trips.

Unfortunately, the industry has evolved very quickly and the reason for the exemption is probably now the exception and not the standard experience.

With the introduction of additional rideshare companies in New Zealand and the increase of demand from the New Zealand public, drivers are more often than not accepting their next trip before dropping off their current passenger. For some drivers, they are doing this through a single rideshare company. However, for others, they could be operating for several different rideshare companies at the same time.

So why are small passenger Service Drivers still allowed 7 hours of continuous work when the reason for the exemption no longer fits the true working conditions of these drivers?


Light Vehicle Goods Delivery

The second relevant exemption is for the light vehicle short-haul good delivery industry (ie, courier services).

  • A driver of a goods vehicle does not have to maintain a logbook or follow the work time requirements if the vehicle only requires a class 1 or 2 licenses to be driven and is operated only within a 50km radius of the vehicle operator’s usual business location or is driven within a 50km radius from a base of operations.
  • The base of operations means a site office established for at least 24 hours or a local depot to which drivers report daily for assignment of tasks or to commence driving.

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash


So What’s The Difference?

Personally, I have been having a tough time understanding why courier drivers in New Zealand don’t have to follow the work time laws when small passenger service drivers do. Because when you think about it, the actions of the driver are no different, simply their cargo changes. A small passenger service driver is picking up and dropping off people from one location to another, whereas a courier driver is picking up packages.

I suppose there is an added risk to the passengers within that vehicle if a small passenger service driver is operating in a fatigued state. They trust the driver is operating in a safe manner and that they will get them from point A to point B safely. And the driver is taking on passengers knowing that their safety is their priority.

But what about other road users, cyclists or pedestrians? They are trusting that anyone who is operating a motor vehicle is doing so in a safe manner, especially those that are driving as part of their employment.

When a cyclist gets knocked off their bike, does it matter what type of driver was behind the wheel and what their cargo was? No!

Also, where does the affects of fatigue change by the type of “cargo” you have in your vehicle? A driver, regardless of the contents of their vehicle, poses the same risk to other road users if they are driving in a fatigued state.

What Is The Impact?

If you want to learn more about fatigue check out our post “The Not So Silent Killer on New Zealand Roads”. There we highlight the effects of driving while fatigued compared to driving with other impairments and some suggestions on how we can improve.

During the Covid-19 pandemic in New Zealand, we have seen countless news stories of how courier drivers are run off their feet, seeing volumes of deliveries greater than what we normally see during the Christmas holiday period. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. In an article published on Stuff in 2018, it was shown that “fourteen-hour days with no break was the new norm for courier drivers”.

Research has shown that after 2 hours of continuous driving subjective fatigue and driving performance measures begin to deteriorate and after 4 hours, this turns into a significant adverse effect on both measures. However, only 15 minutes of rest provides enough time to recover from 2 hours of continuous driving with the rest needed doubling to 30min for 4 hours of continuous driving.

The NZ Ministry of Transport even backs up these findings publishing on their website that “research shows the longer people spend driving without a break, the greater their level of fatigue. Also, the time spent in other activities such as work, school, and so on, can increase fatigue and affect subsequent driving.”

So why can SPS drivers operate for 7 hours straight and courier drivers have no restrictions?


Whats About Long-Haul Heavy Goods Vehicle Drivers?

It is a common misconception that fatigue is only a problem for long-distance drivers. Fatigue is just as problematic for short-haul light vehicle drivers as long-haul heavy vehicle drivers. Short-haul light vehicle goods drivers experience long day time hours with too few rest breaks and high exposure to an urban traffic environment in an uncomfortable vehicle. This causes fatigue to manifest in impaired negotiation of urban driving environments.

Generally, it is not driving alone that causes fatigue but rather several contributing factors often prior to the driver even getting behind the wheel. These can include, shift work, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, over-exercise, medication and long work hours just to name a few. And the reality is we can’t fight our bodies need to sleep forever. Eventually, the chemicals within your brain will overcome conscious thought and your body will fall asleep, even if just for a few seconds, something called Microsleeps.

Microsleeps are short bursts of sleep, often experienced without the person even being aware they took place (tuck.com). During this time (which can last anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes) a driver will not be able to respond to an external stimulus such as crossing the centre line, an upcoming turn or traffic lights.

Microsleep episodes do not discriminate based on the type of work a driver is undertaking or what their cargo is. So why do our work-time rules?


What Can We Do?

We need to recognise that all commercial drivers are exposed to the same risks associated with fatigue. Fatigue can occur long before someone gets behind the wheel of a vehicle. Furthermore, the type of vehicle and/or the type of work being completed has little effect on the level of fatigue it can impart on a driver.

The exceptions included for the small passenger service and light short-haul goods (courier) industries don’t accurately reflect the type of work (or the hours of work) that are being done by drivers. Continuing to allow these exceptions not only puts the drivers at risk but also all other NZ road users.