One in five crashes on Wairarapa roads are caused by fatigue, the Wairarapa Road Safety Council says.
“Distraction and fatigue overlap … it’s a concern to us in our area,” council manager Dave Ryan said.
Canterbury University researchers are developing a device which detects drowsiness and could help prevent fatigue-related crashes.
Nationwide, 31 people died in fatigue-related crashes in the year to February. There were 37 such crashes in the Greater Wellington region during the same period, including one fatality.
About 75 per cent of all serious and fatal crashes on Wairarapa roads involved poor observation on state highways. Initiatives to combat fatigue included a billboard and media campaign, plus rumble strips, which are “very effective”, Mr Ryan said.
A head-mounted fatigue-detection prototype, dubbed a world first, is being developed by engineering PhD student Simon Knopp.
“Lapses can have serious consequences. Truck drivers, pilots, and air traffic controllers, for instance, have to stay alert for long periods of time and risk causing fatalities if they don’t,” Mr Knopp said.
His device detects such lapses and alerts a person before they have an accident.
Multiple sensors are used to determine the person’s state.
A miniature camera looks at the eyes, and sensors measure brain activity and head movement.
“[Lapses] vary from micro-sleeps, where you essentially fall asleep for a moment, to sustained-attention lapses.
“Most people have these lapses and often aren’t aware they’re having them.”
An Australian study of short-haul day-shift drivers found that 45 per cent of drivers reported nodding off while driving in the previous 12 months.
AA road safety spokesman Mike Noon said crashes caused by fatigue happened regularly but it was difficult to determine if a crash occurred because the driver was tired, inattentive or had fallen asleep.
“Why [fatigue] doesn’t get reported as being a real crash issue is because when you have a near miss, or when you have a crash, you immediately wake up and you’re fully alert, the adrenaline goes off,” he said.
Some car manufacturers were introducing systems to monitor driver drowsiness, Mr Knopp said.
“By using data from multiple sensors, though, our device should be able to respond more quickly and more accurately than something that just uses a camera on a car’s dashboard.
“We hope that one day this device will become a standard piece of safety equipment to help prevent lapse-related accidents.”
CRASHES CAUSED BY FATIGUE:
(12 months to February)
- 565 crashes nationwide
- 31 fatalities
- 764 casualties
- 37 crashes in the Greater Wellington region
- One fatality
- 36 injury-causing crashes in the region
- Three serious injuries
- 37 minor injuries
Source: Transport Ministry