What will the implications be?
A team at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, is working on a blood test that will confirm a lack of sleep. According to The Guardian, the new roadside test will be ready in two years, but there are still some hurdles to adoption.
The UK is showing interest but hasn't committed to anything yet. "Drivers have a responsibility to ensure they are awake and alert on the road and should seek rest when feeling tired," the UK Department of Transport said in a statement. "The government is not considering this type of testing, but we always note new ideas to make our roads safer."
A recent study found that 95% of Americans acknowledge that driving while tired is dangerous, and it ranks right up there with drunk driving and being distracted by a smartphone. According to the Sleep Foundation, drowsiness is a factor in roughly 21% of fatal road accidents, close to the 23.1% attributed to driving while under the influence.
While being drunk and tired are not the same, the results can be similar. After 18 hours, a person has the reaction time, hand-eye coordination, and multitasking ability as someone with a 0.05% blood alcohol content. It increases to 0.08% after 20 hours and a full 0.1% after 24 hours. By that scale, the average person would be considered legally drunk in every US state after 20 hours without sleep.
The government usually goes out of its way to keep fatal accidents from happening. The Feds are forcing automakers to develop an in-car technology to battle drunk driving. If the Feds are willing to force automakers to put breathalyzers in the Ram 2500 (the car most often caught with a drunk driver behind the wheel), then you can bet your bottom dollar it will consider this test.
"There is already legislation stating that all drivers must be fit to drive their vehicles - alertness is no different than any other requirement for safe driving," said Prof Ashleigh Filtness, a driver fatigue expert for Road Safety GB. "Having a roadside test for fatigue would be a useful tool for enforcement. However, such a test would not preclude individual driver responsibility. Tiredness does not come on instantly; it's a gradual buildup. It is essential to get enough sleep before driving and to be aware of peaks in tiredness - typically between 2-4 PM and 2-6 AM."
It's no use denying that fatigue doesn't contribute to fatal accidents, so why should it be treated any differently than drunk driving? One could argue that leaving it up to individuals to decide is good enough, but people make poor choices all the time. In an ideal world, for example, nobody would ever drive while drunk.
The main issue is deciding on a baseline for when a person gets fined or arrested. Though scientists have done many studies on sleep, it remains a mystery in many ways. We know from the details that the scientists have identified five markers that can tell whether a person has been awake for longer than 24 hours with 99% accuracy. Previous studies show that's enough to be classified as drunk. Fatigue detection systems may someday have to restrict driving from tired users.
We do wonder about the punishment, however. Hitting the road after knowingly drinking six Buds is a bit different than driving for 20 hours because you want to sleep in your own bed.
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