Fatigue test trial a wake-up call for drowsy drivers

Victorians are being urged to think twice before getting behind the wheel when drowsy, or take a break if they feel tired on the roads, with drivers travelling on just three hours’ sleep 10 times more likely to be involved in a crash.

The Victorian Government has just completed an Australian-first technology trial to detect drowsy drivers and better understand the role fatigue plays in road trauma, with brand new pupil scanning technology detecting tired drivers’ level of distractions.

Supported by Road Safety Victoria and the Transport Accident Commission (TAC), the trial kept participants awake for up to 32 hours before a two-hour drive on a controlled track, supervised by a qualified instructor in a dual-controlled vehicle. They then took three further drive tests – after three hours’ and five hours’ sleep in a 24-hour period, and again after eight hours’ sleep.

Drivers were tested before and after their drive with a scanner that measures involuntary movement of their pupils – which has shown strong links to increased levels of sleep deprivation, leading to less focused and more distracted drivers.

The study also collected a range of behavioural, physiological and driver performance data like brain electrical activity, lane deviations, speed variations and changes in reaction time to show the effects of excessive fatigue on a driver.

As part of a $850,000 government investment in this new technology, the results of the study will be analysed to inform how the trial could be implemented in real-world settings, with the potential to conduct roadside testing to identify and support drivers who are on the roads while excessively fatigued.

Current figures show fatigued drivers are involved in up to 20 per cent of crashes and 11 per cent of fatalities on Victorian roads.

Road Safety Victoria is leading the study in partnership with the TAC, working closely with Monash University, Victoria Police and the Cooperative Research Consortium for Alertness.