Sleepy drivers could face on-the-spot tests to check if they are too tired to be on the road.
Australia is currently conducting trials of a new blood testing technology that could be implemented in the UK within five years. This innovation would enable law enforcement officers to ascertain whether a driver’s lack of sleep was a contributing factor in an accident. Consequently, individuals involved in a crash and taken to a police station or hospital could potentially be tested for sleep deprivation alongside tests for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
According to government data, up to one fifth of motorway accidents in the UK may be caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel, with young men between the ages of 18 and 30 being particularly prone to this risk when driving late at night. Although still in its early stages, the plans have garnered increasing support. The Office of Road Safety in Australia, equivalent to the UK’s Department for Transport, is funding the research.
Professor Clare Anderson, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Monash University involved in the study, explained that fatigue, along with alcohol and speeding, is a major contributor to road fatalities. While the solution to fatigue is simple—getting sufficient sleep—our ability to manage it effectively is compromised because we lack tools for monitoring it, unlike alcohol impairment tests.
Professor Shantha Rajaratnam, another researcher at Monash University, expressed confidence that, with adequate investment, the biomarker-based tests could be implemented within five years. The UK government is not currently pursuing the adoption of this technology, but the Department for Transport acknowledged its openness to new ideas aimed at enhancing road safety.
Sonya Hurt, CEO of the Road Safety Trust, emphasized the significance of addressing driver fatigue, citing government statistics indicating that fatigue was noted as a contributory factor in 467 collisions resulting in death or serious injury in 2021. Thus, any efforts to mitigate the impact of sleep deprivation are valuable in the pursuit of road safety and saving lives.
Once proven accurate, this technology could help establish legal measures against fatigued drivers responsible for accidents. However, implementing an official threshold to indicate tiredness or the minimum required sleep for drivers would necessitate legislative action.
The Australian tests have identified five biomarkers in blood that can detect whether an individual has been awake for 24 hours or longer. Although preliminary, this method has shown up to 90% accuracy in real-world settings. Additional research over the coming years will be necessary before practical implementation can occur.
While this technological advancement has the potential to aid roadside police in preventing accidents caused by tired drivers, it is crucial to continue addressing other causes of crashes, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Share your thoughts on whether these tests should be introduced or if more efforts should be focused on combating other contributing factors.