Sleep Apnea Screening Could Prevent Transportation Accidents

Drowsy (or fatigued) driving is a serious problem in the U.S. One in 25 adults aged 18 and older say they have fallen asleep behind the wheel in the past 30 days, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Those most at risk of drowsy driving are shift workers, commercial truck and bus drivers, people who have untreated sleep disorders or who take sleep medications, and anyone who just doesn’t get enough sleep. Experts agree that healthy adults need at least six hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.

Drowsy driving has caused or contributed to hundreds of thousands of motor vehicle crashes and thousands of deaths in recent years. Estimates of drowsy driving-related accidents, injuries and deaths vary, however. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 2005 and 2009, sleep-deprived and fatigued drivers caused

  • 83,000 crashes
  • 37,000 injury accidents
  • 886 fatal wrecks (846 deaths in 2014 were attributed to drowsy driving).

A report from the Massachusetts Special Commission on Drowsy Driving suggests that the problem is much worse. Their widely-publicized 2009 report, “Asleep at the Wheel,” estimates that drowsy driving causes 1.2 million accidents, 500,000 injuries and 8,000 deaths each year.  There have been several ways to combat sleep-deprived driving. A driver in New Jersey who has been without sleep for more than 24 hours is considered to be driving recklessly and can face criminal penalties. And many here in New York are aware that the City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission announced a proposal to reduce driver fatigue in May 2016, limiting the number of consecutive hours a driver can work.

A compelling study in 2016 on the dangers of drowsy driving conducted in Boston by Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine and Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders dramatically underscores the dangers. The researchers studied the driving habits of 16 night-shift workers as they completed certain driving tasks on a closed track at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety. In a report entitled, “High Risk of Near-Crash Driving Events Following Night-shift Work,” the researchers say that the volunteers’ driving was dangerously worse after working the night shift than it was after a full night’s sleep.

Detailed conclusions of the study included:

  • Almost 38 percent of the drives performed by the volunteers after a work shift resulted in a near-crash. “Safety observers” who rode in the front passenger seat had to use an emergency brake to prevent a crash. There were no near-crash incidents during drives in which the volunteers slept for several hours beforehand.
  • Seven of the 16 drives performed after night-shift work had to be terminated early because the driver could not adequately control of their vehicle. This did not happen to any drivers after they had slept at least five hours.
  • Ocular (visual) measures of drowsiness were significantly higher in drivers who had just worked a night shift, compared to those who had slept a sufficient number of hours.
  • Even though there were early signs of drowsiness among drivers coming off a night shift, their near-crashes and drive terminations happened 45 minutes or more after they started their drives.

Based on the above data, the researchers suggest that night-shift workers and their employers should find a way for workers to get home without getting behind the wheel, or devise strategies to reduce drowsiness before driving home after a shift.

So, if you’ve missed your exit, find yourself drifting across lanes, or hit a rumble strip (strips of bumps on the side of your lane meant to jolt you awake), pull over immediately to change drivers or take a short nap. Safety officials also warn that blasting the radio or rolling down the windows will not help keep you awake.

If you’ve been hit by a fatigued or drowsy driver, or are the victim of anyone’s negligence, the Kaplan Lawyers PC can protect your right to full and fair compensation.  Contact us through our online contact form or call us today.