Road Transport Forum News

 
Maintaining a healthy body and mind

Maintaining a healthy body and mind

Road Transport Forum News

 April 2021   

As trucks get “fitter” – smarter, more fuel-efficient, more aerodynamic etc – the fitness of the person behind the wheel comes under increasing scrutiny. 

In the United States, for instance, there is a new emphasis within transport companies on both equipment efficiency AND driver health.

Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency is about to undergo a review of the Medical Aspects of Fitness to Drive publication. Considerable advances in medical treatments have occurred since Fitness to Drive was last reviewed, and things such as medicinal cannabis or fatigue may also need to be taken into consideration this time.

While the Road Transport Forum and member associations will not be actively involved in the review process, it is a timely reminder to consider the health of everyone involved in the transport industry, particularly truck drivers.

“Those of us who work fairly normal hours and are home every night still find it hard to find time to exercise and eat healthily, so spare a thought for truck drivers,” says RTF chief executive Nick Leggett.

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As trucks get “fitter” – smarter, more fuel-efficient, more aerodynamic etc – the fitness of the person behind the wheel comes under increasing scrutiny. 

In the United States, for instance, there is a new emphasis within transport companies on both equipment efficiency AND driver health.

Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency is about to undergo a review of the Medical Aspects of Fitness to Drive publication. Considerable advances in medical treatments have occurred since Fitness to Drive was last reviewed, and things such as medicinal cannabis or fatigue may also need to be taken into consideration this time.

While the Road Transport Forum and member associations will not be actively involved in the review process, it is a timely reminder to consider the health of everyone involved in the transport industry, particularly truck drivers.

“Those of us who work fairly normal hours and are home every night still find it hard to find time to exercise and eat healthily, so spare a thought for truck drivers,” says RTF chief executive Nick Leggett.

“They may be away from home for days on end – sleeping in their trucks or in motels – and the long days aren’t conducive to regular exercise and healthy meal preparation. If you arrive in a small town at 8pm, often the only food places still open will be takeaways, and it’s not like a driver can stop off at the supermarket and whip up a meal in their cab or motel room.”

Instead of stopping and grabbing junk food when on the road, drivers should have on hand a supply of healthier food and snacks, the RTF recommends. This can be anything from fresh fruit or bags of dried fruit and nuts, to a packed lunch, or leftovers.

“Exercise isn’t always easy to find time for, particularly for long-haul drivers, but it is important to make movement part of everyday life, even if it’s just a walk around the block or taking the stairs instead of the lift,” says Leggett.

We know that paying attention to diet and exercise can pay off, with better sleep quality and improved mental health. Poor physical health often goes hand-in-hand with interrupted sleep and a brain that won’t switch off. 

“Sleep apnoea is a common affliction among professional drivers and is a potentially serious condition in which a person stops breathing during sleep. Typical symptoms include snoring, not feeling refreshed on waking, daytime sleepiness, altered mood and morning headaches. There are many causes, but the risk is higher if the sufferer is overweight, a smoker and/or a drinker.

“Australian research a few years ago found that about 40% of commercial vehicle drivers in Australia were likely to suffer from sleep apnoea, despite averaging eight hours of sleep on their non-working days and nearly seven hours while on shift. The research also found obstructive sleep apnoea increased a driver’s accident risk between two to seven times what it would normally be.

“If being overweight and unfit increases the likelihood of developing sleep apnoea, and sleep apnoea in turn significantly increases the likelihood of having an accident, then don’t we all have a responsibility to look after ourselves and watch what we eat?” says Leggett.

“As well as having a healthy body, we should also be asking that important question of our friends: ‘Are you okay?’ 

“At the RTF conference in 2019, keynote speaker Craig Membrey, who lost his son to suicide, urged us all to seek help, share our problems, surround ourselves with family, friends and work colleagues – and, above all, look out for each other. 

“After the year we have all just experienced, Craig’s message resonates more than ever,” says Leggett. 

“Looking after our physical and mental health and that of our loved ones has never been more important.” 


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