Driving when tired roadside test in the works

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A blood test promised in two years will show whether driving is impaired by lack of sleep, and it could become a driving offense.

Researchers in Australia hope to target one of the major causes of traffic accidents with a new blood test that will show whether a driver was impaired by lack of sleep.

If successful, the team at Monash University in Melbourne will provide police with a means to prosecute drivers who either cause or risk causing accidents through tiredness. Evidence is claimed to show that having less than five hours of sleep makes a driver as risky as someone over the breathalyser limit for alcohol in some parts of the world. Here in Australia, data from the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) claims that driving when tired is a contributing factor in between 16-20 per cent of all road crashes in Victoria.

So far the Australian team, funded by the Australian government’s Office of Road Safety, has identified five chemical biomarkers in the bloodstream that can tell them whether subjects have been awake for 24 hours or more with an accuracy rate of 99 per cent. However, the researchers say more study is required in order to determine whether these markers can be utilised to reveal the number of hours sleep a person actually has.

One of the research scientists, Professor Shantha Rajaratnam, told The Guardian that although forensic tests to make determinations could be available to laboratories within two years, the prospect of equipping police with roadside test equipment would be several years further off. “With the right investment to be able to scale this, I reckon that within five years we will be able to implement these biomarker-based tests – at least in safety-critical industries such as trucking, commercial aviation and mining,” he said.

The research has already been noted overseas, with the Department for Transport in the UK saying that it’s not currently considering sleep tests or a legal minimum sleep level for drivers, but confirms it has ‘noted’ the Australian research.

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