Study emphasizes link between shift work and drowsy driving

In addition to disrupting the sleep-wake cycle and heightening the risk for conditions like heart disease, shift work can increase drowsiness even during daytime commutes. In Texas and across the U.S., more than 9.5 million people work night shifts or rotational shifts, making drowsy driving a public health hazard.

To determine just how dangerous drowsy driving can be, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital conducted a study involving 16 night shift workers. The workers participated in two driving sessions on a closed driving track: one after they had slept an average of 7.6 hours and the other immediately after their shift was over.

During the second session, drivers exhibited poorer driving skills; 6 out of 16 were involved in near-crash events, and over a third had to end with an emergency braking maneuver. Half of all sessions ended with drivers losing control of their vehicles. On average, researchers found indications of sleep-related impairment within 15 minutes of observing drivers.

Experienced night shift workers fared no better than inexperienced; according to the study, they exhibited reactions similar to those found in drivers with high blood alcohol concentrations. Researchers believe that better education could make drivers more alert to signs of drowsiness when they arise. They also recommend that drivers should find alternate transportation if possible.

When drowsy driving leads to motor vehicle accidents, victims should know what their legal options are. A lawyer might help the victim file an injury claim, first by retrieving paperwork like police reports and medical documents and second by negotiating with the other driver's insurance company. Many lawyers dealing in injury cases are also capable of building up wrongful death suits. A successful wrongful death suit may be able to compensate the family for pre-death medical bills, funeral expenses, and loss of support or consortium.

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