How Blood Tests Will Put Drowsy Driving to Bed

It’s no secret that not getting enough sleep makes you feel truly awful. You’re slow, sluggish and completely off the ball. Considering how important alertness is to a courier driver, and indeed to all road users, it’s a little worrying that it’s still not properly understood. Luckily, science marches on, and some recent developments could have a serious positive impact on road safety.

Tiredness and the Driving Business

There should be no doubt that sleep deprivation poses serious risks to road users. Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that getting just one to two hours less shut-eye in a 24-hour period doubles your risk of an accident. And, as with anything to do with road safety, the dangers aren’t just to you but to others around you.

Businesses realise this, of course, and have procedures in place to minimise risk to courier drivers. As Chris McClellan of RAM Tracking notes, ‘Vehicle tracking devices allow for the monitoring of driver whereabouts and other data, including how long they’ve been at the wheel and details of rest stops.’ This allows fleet managers to organise shifts to avoid tiredness and to make adjustments if necessary.

Progress in the Science of Sleep

Research is also being undertaken in terms of other road users as well. The University of Surrey’s Sleep Research Centre does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a specialist institution dedicated to understanding, analysing and dealing with sleep. One project in particular has implications for road safety.

The details are complex but in simple terms the research centre ran a study in which 36 participants were kept awake for 40 hours and monitored, revealing measurable changes across thousands of genes. This data was then fed into a computer, which identified a manageable subset of 68 markers. Measuring change in these can detect sleep deprivation with 92% accuracy. Professor Simon Archer of the research centre described these as a ‘first step’ in the research of measuring tiredness.

What This Means for Road Users

So, if we’re closer to being able to physically test tiredness, how does this affect you as a courier driver?

The markers detecting sleep deprivation, mentioned above, can be checked in standard blood tests. While it might not be quite as simple as blowing into a breathalyser at the roadside, blood tests are still easy and safe to administer. And, focusing on the 68 most relevant markers means there’s no need for highly complex computer programs to figure out whether you need a little more rest. In fact, it could be as easy as a simple roadside test.

Rolling out this technology would enable traffic police to measure tiredness as easily as they can intoxication. And if a courier driver (and any other road user) showed sleep deprivation they would be kept off the road – making them safer for everyone.

More than this, the scientific advances could have positive knock-on effects too. McClellan was especially optimistic about such prospects, pointing out that these tests would also encourage more awareness of the issue of being in charge of a vehicle on a lack of sleep.

Given how dramatically tiredness can increase your risk of accidents, rolling out tests has the potential to seriously increase safety our roads, and that can only be a good thing.

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Norman Dulwich is a correspondent for Courier Exchange, the world's largest neutral trading hub for same day courier driver work in the express freight exchange industry. Over 5,400 member companies are networked together through the Exchange to fill empty capacity, get new clients and form long-lasting business relationships.

 

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