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Night shift workers at higher risk for drowsy driving

Night shift work disrupts the ordinary sleep-wake cycle, increasing the risk of drowsiness in the daytime. With over 9.5 million people throughout the U.S. working a night or rotational shift, drowsy driving has become a public health hazard in Illinois and around the country.

To show how drowsiness affects driver performance, researchers from a Massachusetts hospital conducted a study with 16 night shift workers. They were asked to participate in two sessions on a closed d track: the first after sleeping for the night, the second after getting off work. An EEG measured drowsiness during micro-sleep episodes and, naturally, gave higher results in the second session.

The second session was also marked by an increase in near-crash events, with six of the drivers having their sessions terminated early because of them. Over a third of the drivers ended their second session by using their emergency brakes. Drivers also lost control of their vehicles during half of all the sessions.

Researchers compared some of the reactions exhibited by drivers to the behavior of intoxicated ones. Even veteran night shift workers did not fare better than the less experienced. On average, researchers noted signs of drowsiness in the participants within 15 minutes of every session. They emphasize the fact that even short commutes endanger night shift workers as well as others on the road.

Drowsy driving is a major cause of motor vehicle accidents. People in other vehicles who are in such a collision often require extensive and costly medical treatment, and they might want to have the help of a lawyer when seeking compensation from the at-fault motorist.

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