A new blood test could introduce a law for the minimum number of hours of sleep that are needed to drive.
The test would determine whether a person is too sleep deprived to be driving, and it might be made available within the next five years. Around one-fifth of traffic accidents are estimated to be related to fatigue.
Last month, Nature and Science of Sleep published a study which suggested that if a driver has slept for less than four or five hours in the previous 24 hours, the risk of having a crash could be doubled.
Blood and breath tests can be used to measure drunkenness, but not sleep deprivation. However, a team asserted that it has now discovered five blood components, including lipids made in the gut, that may determine if a person has been awake for 24 hours.
The researchers reported the test to be 90 per cent accurate in real-life situations. However, the test is yet to differentiate between people who have had say, five hours or just two.
According to the researchers, new rules may be drafted to specify the minimum amount of sleep required before driving with the use of a sleep test.
Leader of the team Clare Anderson, an associate professor at Monash University in Australia, said: “When you look at the major killers on the road, alcohol is one of them, speeding is another and fatigue is one of them. But our capacity to manage [tiredness] is impaired because we don’t have tools to be able to monitor it like we do with alcohol.”
Professor Shantha Rajaratnam, also at Monash University, said: “With the right investment to be able to scale this, I reckon that within five years we will be able to implement these biomarkerbased tests at least in safety-critical industries such as trucking, commercial aviation and mining.”
Professor Ashleigh Filtness, a driver fatigue expert for Road Safety GB, said: “There is already legislation stating that all drivers must be fit to drive their vehicles. Alertness is no different to any other requirement for safe driving.”
The Department for Transport said: “Drivers have a responsibility to ensure they are awake and alert on the road and should seek rest when feeling tired. The government is not considering this type of testing but we always note new ideas to make our roads safer.”