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Sleeping Truck Drivers Cause Accidents

November 11, 2007

Last week the Center for Disease Control (CDC) celebrated Drowsy Driver Prevention Week.Interestingly, in a poll conducted as part of their education campaign, 47 percent of commercial truck drivers admitted to having fallen asleep while driving a truck during some point in their career.

In a study conducted of the sleep patterns of long haul truck drivers and printed in the New England Journal of Medicine, drivers obtained between 4 and 5 hours of verifiable sleep during the course of driving ten-hour days in a five-day period.Most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.Thus, fatigue and sleep deprivation constitute significant safety issues for long haul truck drivers.

Because long haul truck drivers often must sleep while on the road, they obtain less sleep than is required for alertness on the job.Late night or early morning route schedules are often the cause of sleep or sleeplike states while driving.During this study, two drivers had episodes of stage one sleep while driving.Stage one sleep occurs when the body’s systems move into a state of flaccid paralysis and no longer respond to motor messages from the brain. Despite this, no accidents or mishaps occurred during the study.

Drivers who sleep in their tractor-trailer often endure poor sleep conditions.They are often interrupted by noise, light, and extremes of heat and cold.Poor sleep conditions account for 62 percent of traffic related accidents.This problem is compounded by driver sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and snoring.Sleep apnea occurs when the body must wake itself up to resume breathing during the sleep stages.

Further, the human body is designed to sleep during periods of darkness and to be alert during light.The body produces a sleep hormone – melatonin – which is regulated by night and day cycles.This is also known as the body’s circadian rhythm.During darkness, melatonin stimulates sleep.Low levels during lightness stimulate wakefulness.Almost all long haul truck drivers begin their shifts between one a.m. and eight a.m. when melatonin levels are high.Coincidentally, most sleep related vehicle accidents occur between midnight and six a.m.

Truck driver fatigue is the subject of new U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations.Tractor-trailer truck drivers may only drive for eleven hours after ten hours off.The National Transportation Safety Board states that driver fatigue may account for one third of all large (semi, tractor-trailer) truck accidents.Further, driver fatigue was the likely cause in thirty percent of all fatal crashes.

Accidents involving sleeping drivers – and worse sleeping truck drivers – often yield tragic consequences.Sleeping drivers usually maintain their speed; thus, not braking or turning to avoid the accident. For further information on truck related accidents, contact Robert N. Katz.