New research means police could soon conduct roadside tests for driver fatigue, just like they do for alcohol or drugs.
Researchers believe the ability to test drivers on-the-spot will dramatically reduce fatigue-related road death by changing driver behaviour about getting behind-the-wheel while tired in the same way that alcohol testing has changed attitudes to drink-driving.
Current research shows that fatigue is a factor in up to one-third of serious traffic accidents in Victoria, killing about 50 people and seriously injuring a further 300 annually.
Research lead Associate Professor Mark Howard, from the Victorian-based Austin Health and Institute for Breathing and Sleep, successfully tested the technology, which involves using ‘smart glasses’ to track eye movements, including the duration of blinks and how eyes scan the road. This, he says, has delivered an accurate measurement of driver fatigue levels in both laboratories and off-road driving simulations.
Researchers studied drowsiness in night-shift workers during driving tests and found a ten-fold increase in ‘microsleeps’ and double the number of lane crossings.
They also found these fatigued drivers struggled to keep their eyes open and had more trouble staying in the middle of a lane.
One-size-fits-all-test for police
Assoc Prof Howard says he and his team are now working on translating technology calibrated for each driver to a one-size-fits-all-test that police could use to scientifically determine in a roadside test if someone is too fatigued to drive.
He said raising awareness of what it means to be tired will be key to reducing deaths.
“With drug and alcohol testing, you’re trying to change driver behaviour. You don’t need to detect everyone – just the tip of the iceberg – people who are very impaired.”
“Education, with measurement and enforcement, creates the behaviour change”, he said.
With Chain of Responsibility (CoR) laws already in place to deter heavy vehicle drivers from driving while fatigued, it’s not hard to imagine that these drivers will be in the firing line as soon as the tests become available.
That’s why it’s important for drivers, transport operators and all parties in the supply chain to understand driver fatigue and take all reasonable steps to ensure they don’t drive while fatigued or cause drivers to exceed their fatigue limits. A failure to do so can result in a breach of CoR laws and attract hefty financial penalties.
If you’re unsure how this affects you or how you can take all reasonable steps to prevent driver fatigue, especially if your company doesn’t have its own drivers, you need to subscribe to CoR Adviser.
The monthly newsletter, written in plain English by the transport lawyers at Holding Redlich, has detailed information about preventing driver fatigue, along with all the other important news, case studies, legislation updates and law changes you won’t find in the mass media.
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