Pennsylvania residents should know that over 9.5 million Americans work either a night shift or a rotating shift. This means that millions of individuals are endangering themselves and others on the road each day they drive home from work. The reason lies in the nature of shift work. It disrupts the ordinary sleep-wake cycle, thus increasing drowsiness as well as the risk for getting conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
To measure the effect of shift work on driving performance, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital conducted a study with 16 night shift workers. It involved two driving sessions on a closed driving track: the first after all 16 had an average of 7.6 hours of sleep, and the second after they had completed a shift at their workplace. Drowsiness was measured during micro-sleep episodes using an EEG.
Half of all sessions ended early with the drivers failing to maintain control of their vehicle. Six out of the 16 participants had near-crash events in the second session, and more than a third had to perform an emergency stop. Researchers were able to discern sleep-related impairment in roughly the first 15 minutes of the second session. The authors concluded that even short homeward-bound commutes put night shift workers at risk.
While some drivers may find alternate transportation, others will continue to take the risk. Car accidents caused by drowsy driving often lead to catastrophic injuries to occupants of other vehicles that are involved in the collision. Victims may find it advisable to have legal assistance when attempting to recover compensation for their medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other applicable damages.