The graveyard shift can lead to a variety of sleep disturbances. According to statistics from the Cleveland Clinic, approximately 20 percent of U.S. workers perform shift work, and between 10 to 40 percent of those workers may suffer from shift work sleep disorder (SWSD). SWSD can affect anyone who does not work a traditional job. This includes medical personnel, factory workers, retail employees, and others whose jobs require them to work overnight or late into the night.
SWSD makes it difficult for overnight workers to adjust to a different sleep/wake schedule. In turn, these employees often have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping when they need to. Recently, researchers at the University of Missouri analyzed data surrounding late-shift workers and car accidents. Among their findings:
- Workers with SWSD are 300 percent more likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash.
- People with other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and insomnia, are at 30 percent greater risk for a crash or near-crash.
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that every year, about 91,000 police-reported crashes involve drowsy driving, resulting in approximately 800 fatalities and 50,000 injuries. The number for both may actually be much higher because it is often difficult to tell if a driver was drowsy or fell asleep before an accident. In fact, a study by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates there may be around 328,000 drowsy driving crashes that happen each year, resulting in 109,000 injuries and 6,400 deaths.
Clearly, SWSD and other sleep disturbances can cause drowsy driving and accidents. Anyone traveling at night, whether as an employee or not, should take extra caution on the roads.
Drowsy Driving Attributes
Studies show that drowsy driving accidents have some commonalities:
- They occur most frequently between midnight and 6:00 a.m. or late afternoon when circadian rhythms naturally dip. Circadian rhythms are the body’s internal clock.
- They often involve a single driver and no passengers.
- Vehicles generally run off the road at high speeds with no evidence of braking.
- Accidents frequently occur on rural roads and highways.
- The drowsier the driver, the worse their reaction times, awareness of hazards, and ability to remain attentive.
A driver might not realize they are fatigued because they mask symptoms with coffee or other stimulants. Being unaware of fatigue makes it even more dangerous to drive.
Some motorists experience microsleep, which is short, involuntary periods of inattention. A vehicle can travel the length of a football field in the few seconds a driver is in microsleep.
What are the Signs of Drowsy Driving?
Drowsy driving is most often realized when a driver:
- Yawns frequently.
- Has difficulty keeping eyes.
- Nods off or has trouble keeping their head up.
- Has difficulty maintaining speed.
- Drifts out of their lane.
- Misses road signs, signals, or turns.
- Does not remember driving the last few miles.
Sometimes, a driver will not experience any of these symptoms before falling asleep. Anyone driving on little sleep should be aware of how quickly fatigue can happen.
How can I Prevent Drowsy Driving Accidents?
An employee who is just beginning a new shift of late-night or overnight work should be aware that it will take time for their bodies to adjust to new work and sleep hours. Even workers who are accustomed to their hours should remain vigilant while driving.
Anyone driving at night should heed the following tips to prevent accidents due to drowsiness:
- Consider getting a ride to and from work. Getting used to new nighttime hours can take time and effort. Consider using a rideshare service or a willing friend or family member for trips to and from work until accustomed to the new hours.
- Practice. Before beginning a job requiring overnight or late hours, spend a week getting used to the new work and sleep hours at home before starting the new shift.
- Use the car’s technology. Recently, car manufacturers have been putting extra focus on making vehicles safer to drive. These technologies can alert drivers veering from their lane, issue drowsy driving warnings, and even gently steer or stop the car if it is too close to other vehicles.
- Carry a passenger or two. Carpooling during late-night work hours or having someone else in the car when driving at night for other reasons can go a long way in preventing accidents.
- Avoid impaired driving. Never drink alcohol or take medications before driving.
- Get assistance. Attend a course an employer may offer about getting used to new work and sleep hours and how to stay safe when working the night.
- Get as much sleep as possible. Even those who work at night and are accustomed to sleeping during the day may not get enough sleep. Appointments, children, a noisy home, or other distractions can result in inadequate sleep.
- Advise teenagers on safe driving after dark and in the early morning. Teenagers often need more sleep than adults.
- Do not set off on a long road trip without enough sleep. Some vacationers may leave in the middle of the night or drive late into the night to make good time.
- Do not depend on coffee or other substances to stay awake. While they may be effective for a short time, they will not keep a driver awake and alert for the long haul.
- Pull over at a safe place the minute fatigue sets in. A short nap can prevent an accident.
- Play the radio loud. While this is not a foolproof solution, it can help keep a driver’s attention.
- Open a window or keep the car cool. A warm, dark car can be an invitation to sleep.
Towson Personal Injury Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC Help Clients After Nighttime Car Accidents
Many serious crashes and fatalities are caused by drowsy drivers. If you were hit by a drowsy driver, speak to a Towson personal injury lawyer at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC. Call us at 443-589-0150 or contact us online for a free consultation. From our offices in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, we serve clients throughout Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.