UP to 20 of the 24 people who have died this year on our region's roads may have been killed due to fatigue, shocking new figures reveal.
This is why the Victorian Government and the TAC has been trialling Australia-first technology designed to test whether a person is fatigued behind the wheel.
The TAC said the testing, which has been conducted at a controlled facility in Kilsyth since March this year, sees drivers kept awake for up to 32 hours before conducting a two-hour drive on a controlled track, supervised by a qualified instructor in a dual control vehicle.
Drivers were tested before and after their drive to measure involuntary movement of their pupils, which is proven to be strongly linked with increasing levels of fatigue.
The project was part of an $850,000 investment to see if roadside testing for extreme fatigue can be conducted in a similar way to current roadside alcohol and drug testing, run by the Department of Transport, Monash University, the TAC, Victoria Police and the Alertness CRC.
The trial will remain active until the end of the year, with on-road testing set to begin in 2020.
The statistics show 17 of the 24 road deaths in central Victoria in 2019 have been as part of crashes in which cars ran off the side of the road. Three have been head on collisions.
Both types of crash are often caused by fatigue, but not exclusively.
Monash University's Associate Professor Clare Anderson, from the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, is leading the study.
She said a number of measures were being examined, focused on roadside testing for sleep deprivation.
"Some are tests on eye and eyelid movements, but future tests could be based on blood-based measures - longer term, that could be looking at biomarkers for fatigue," she said.
"We don't know what it'll look like yet, but we can take a blood sample at the moment and predict how long you've been awake for the past 24 hours with almost perfect accuracy."
She added the tests were designed to capture people with excessive sleep deprivation, "not people who have had a bad night's sleep or who have young children".
"It's concerning that those statistics haven't changed, clearly a new strategy is needed for reducing the number of people driving while drowsy," she said.
"Fatigue is one of the biggest causes of road fatality, it has to be targeted alongside speed, distraction, and alcohol."
The policy and operation of any future test would be discussed after the study concludes - Professor Anderson said it's hoped results will be released by the end of this year.
Research highlights that driving while drowsy is a dangerous activity, as being awake for 17 hours has the same impact on the body as driving with an illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05.
This increases to a BAC of 0.1, double the legal limit, if a driver has not slept for 24 hours.
Of the myriad of fatal crashes that have occurred in central Victoria this year, most have been from single car crashes where drivers have either left the road and veered to the left, or crossed the road and ended up hitting an object on the other side.
Another three people have lost their lives in head-on collisions, which suggests fatigue could be a major factor in the amount of serious crashes in the region.
TAC, Roads and Road Safety Minister Jaala Pulford said the state government was attempting to understand why so many people are dying on the roads.
"We've lost more than 200 people on our roads this year - this is heartbreaking and unacceptable, and serious injury or death is not the price you should pay for using the road," Ms Pulford said.
"We're undertaking a massive investment in boosting road safety across Victoria, but everyone has a role to play - that means sticking to the speed limit, putting on your seatbelt, resting when you need to and ignoring your phone to make sure you, your friends and your family get home safely."
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