27 Mar 2009

Coroner calls for Army strategy on driver fatigue

7:10 am on 27 March 2009

The Palmerston North Coroner has recommended the Army develop a strategy to explain to young drivers how sleep deprivation and alcohol intake can cause fatigue when driving.

It comes after the inquest into the death of Shane Winiata Ratahi, who was killed when an army truck crossed the centre line and crashed into his vehicle on State Highway 1 at Rata in February 2006.

Coroner Timothy Scott found that the driver of the Unimog, Lance Bombadier John Penney, fell into a micro sleep before the crash, his brain slipping uncontrollably into a light sleep.

On the weekend before the Tuesday crash, Lance Bombadier Penney had been drinking heavily and going to be bed very late. In subsequent days, he slept less than he normally did.

However, Mr Scott found that neither he nor his army superiors could have been reasonably expected to forsee the crash.

The Coronor relied on expert evidence from the director of the Sleep Wake Research Centre, Dr Phillippa Gander.

Mr Scott wants the army to develop a programme aimed at people aged 25 and under to explain how alcohol intake and sleep deprivation can lead to fatigue when driving.

The Army says soldiers are taught about the dangers of fatigue, but it accepts the Coroner's recommendations and more needs to be done.

Brigidier Dave Gawn told Checkpoint the Army has developed a fatigue management policy and now teaches this in its driving courses. He says the Army will be liaising with the sleep expert to ensure the message about the effect of cumulative sleep deprivation gets through to young soldiers.