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Radio Australia - Innovations - Optalert

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innovations Radio Australia - Innovations - Optalert [This is the print version of story]

7 November 2005 Optalert A new device that measures driver fatigue. Contact: Murray Johns Sleep Diagnostics Pty Ltd., Suite 1, 150 Chestnut St., Richmond, VIC 3121 International Telephone: +61 3 9427 1838 Website: Website:

TRANSCRIPT: BLANCH : When drivers spend many hours on the road they can be at greater risk of becoming drowsy or falling asleep at the wheel. It's estimated that fatigue is a factor in one in five road accidents and despite graphic public education campaigns, drivers often fail to recognise when they're too tired to drive. Now there's a groundbreaking new device being trialled in Melbourne, in Australia's southern state of Victoria, which can measure a driver's sleepiness and sound an alarm, which warns drivers to pull over as Natasha Johnson reports for the 7.30 Report. NATASHA JOHNSON : As the sun goes down, we're biologically programmed to hit the sack. We need about eight hours sleep a night, but in our modern 24/7 way of life, up to 30 per cent of us aren't getting anywhere near that and the consequences can be deadly. It's estimated fatigue is a factor in 20 per cent of fatal road accidents, enough to warrant graphic public education campaigns. But you don't have to have been up all night to be at risk of drowsy driving. Waking even a few hours short of the recommended eight can be dangerous. DR. MARK HOWARD, SLEEP PHYSICIAN, AUSTIN HOSPITAL : Even for one night with four or five hours of sleep increases your risk of having an accident by about three-fold. And if you're doing that every night on a permanent basis then you chronically have an increased risk of having a road accident. NATASHA JOHNSON : Dr. Mark Howard is a sleep doctor at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne who has worked to combat fatigue in the transport industry which is notorious for cheating sleep. His team is trialling a new device that provides an early warning of drowsiness. WARNING DEVICE : You are approaching a dangerous level of drowsiness. 8/05/2006

Radio Australia - Innovations - Optalert

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NATASHA JOHNSON : These glasses contain infrared sensors which measure eyelid movement and speed of blinks. They are connected to a box, which emits two alarms, warning of increasing sleepiness even before the driver is aware of it. WARNING DEVICE : You are now too drowsy to drive safely. DR. MARK HOWARD : There's really a continuum from being completely alert through to that stage of falling asleep. There's slowing of eyelid closure and increased duration of eyelid closure as you become sleepy. But not necessarily closing your eyes for very long periods of many seconds, but an increase of a few hundred milliseconds or even tens of milliseconds is actually abnormal. NATASHA JOHNSON : As shown on this driving simulator, these early stages of drowsiness reduce alertness and the ability to react to visual stimulus like another vehicle or a red light. The Austin researchers are now testing the device on people with sleep disorders, like Romeo Sacris. The 29 year-old night shift worker has sleep apnoea, a condition affecting five per cent of the population in which throat muscles relax during sleep to block breathing, which then triggers constant waking. ROMEO SACRIS : I keep waking every two to three minutes and I stop breathing 40 times in an hour. NATASHA JOHNSON : So you wake 40 times an hour? ROMEO SACRIS : Yeah, every two to three minutes. NATASHA JOHNSON : The condition leaves him chronically sleepy and once almost resulted in tragedy during a long car trip from Sydney to Melbourne. ROMEO SACRIS : Suddenly I was tired and I didn't even notice that I fell asleep for, I don't know, maybe one second or two seconds, because when I wake up my car was already on the gravel. It was scary because you have got all of your loved ones in the back of your car. NATASHA JOHNSON : Romeo Sacris is now receiving treatment, but believes he'd benefit from the drowsiness device. Marketed as Optalert, it was invented by Murray Johns, a retired Melbourne sleep physician. After more than 30 years treating sleepy patients, he dreamed up the device in his back shed as a project for his retirement. MURRAY JOHNS, OPTALERT INVENTOR : Initially, I did the soldering iron at home in a shed at the back, so it was all very primitive. And my basic driving force was, if I know how to measure drowsiness in people, may be I can stop them being drowsy when they are driving and may be I can save a few lives. NATASHA JOHNSON : Nine years after he started tinkering, Murray John's hobby has moved from the drawing board to the road with one of Australia's biggest transport companies, Toll Holdings trialling the glasses in some of its trucks. DAVID LOVE, TOLL HOLDINGS : I've been in the transport industry over 30-odd years. I started as a driver myself and I've noticed the amount of accidents over the years and if we can control the accidents on the road and make everyone safer, I think it's certainly worth using the device. NATASHA JOHNSON : Twenty-nine year-old Brad Ibrahim hauls a volatile cargo of 8/05/2006

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55-thousand litres of fuel. He already operates under strict fatigue management rules, but was surprised when using the glasses at how unaware he was of early signs of drowsiness. BRAD IBRAHIM, DRIVER : When I first put them on, they were alerting me that I was drowsy and I thought I'm not even drowsy. But driving down the road a bit I thought I could really do with a bit of a nap or get out and kick the tyres. So yeah, you don't realise until it actually happens. NATASHA JOHNSON : Toll is negotiating with Optalert to purchase the device and is talking to the inventors about developing a central monitoring service which could alert head office if a driver is not heeding the warnings. As alcohol can affect people differently, so too can drowsiness. So the Austin researchers are now investigating a standard point at which a tired driver is too tired to drive. DR. MARK HOWARD : One of the difficulties is determining a level which integrates a high-accident risk, not a level which integrates a mild degree of tiredness. NATASHA JOHNSON : Optalert won't be available to domestic drivers for some time, but its designers are leading the world in getting this far, much to the delight of Murray Johns, who has bankrolled much of the development. MURRAY JOHNS : I'm not doing it because I aim to get rich. I'm doing it because I'm a physician, I like helping people and I see this as an opportunity to make a major difference. BLANCH : Murray Johns, inventor of Optalert, a new device that measures driver fatigue. Natasha Johnson with that report. Back Š 2006 Australian Broadcasting Corporation Copyright information: Privacy information: 8/05/2006,%20Innovations%20-%20OPTALERT,%20Innovations%20-%20OPTALERT,%20Innovations%20-%20OPTALERT,%207%20Nov.pdf