Australian researchers develop blood test to detect sleepiness in drivers

With sufficient funding, it could be deployed on the roads in the next five years.
Ameya Paleja
Representative image of a sleepy driver
Representative image of a sleepy driver


Researchers at Monash University in Australia have developed a new blood test that can detect sleepiness in drivers. The test could pave the way for the prosecution of drivers and their employers if a crash was a result of insufficient sleep.

Blood tests to determine if a person behind the wheel has consumed alcohol beyond prescribed limits have become commonplace these days. But not every accident is the result of alcohol consumption. Some are even caused by driver fatigue due to long work hours and insufficient sleep.

Recent research has shown that driving with lesser than five hours of sleep is as dangerous as driving with excessive alcohol in the bloodstream. In such a scenario, there should be a way to measure the sleepiness of drivers and Australian researchers have found a way to do exactly that.

How does a blood test detect sleepiness?

A team of researchers led by Clare Anderson, a professor at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health at Monash University identified five biomarkers in the blood that can determine if an individual has been awake for 24 hours or more with 99 percent accuracy, The Guardian reported.

These biomarkers are from different parts of the body but are not metabolites, thereby reducing the likelihood that they will be impacted in case of a vehicle crash. When tested in closer to real-life situations, the accuracy of the test dropped to 90 percent but is still pretty high.

Australian researchers develop blood test to detect sleepiness in drivers
A sleepiness test after a crash could the norm in a few years time

The researchers are currently working to improve the test so that it can quantify the number of hours an individual may have slept, prior to taking it. Anderson is of the view that such a test could be conducted alongside alcohol and drug tests following a vehicle crash. Portable tests that could determine sleepiness on the road could take another five years to arrive, the researchers told The Guardian.

Currently in the U.K., professional drivers are required to maintain work and rest logbooks that the police take into account in the event of a crash. However, proving that a crash was a result of driver fatigue is challenging. A blood test, when available, could be extremely handy.

However, not all researchers are convinced. Some are of the view that refusing work due to a sleepiness test is a luxury many cannot afford. Instead of looking to penalize drivers after the damage is done, experts suggest that more work is needed to alleviate tiredness by improving work schedules and reducing long working hours for individuals.

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