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When truckers drive the night shift

Written by Steve Gursten Posted February 23rd, 2016

Study finds high risk of near-crash driving events following night-shift work… This means more wrecks caused by fatigued truck drivers

Near-crash driving events and drive terminations occurred only in post night-shift drives.

Caption: Near-crash driving events and drive terminations occurred only in post night-shift drives.

It’s in the stats, folks. When workers are on the night shift, their risk for being involved in a serious truck accident goes up. This is according to a recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the Jan. 5 edition for Medical Sciences. Specifically, the study found:

“Night-shift workers are at high risk of drowsiness-related motor vehicle crashes as a result of circadian disruption and sleep restriction.”

For truckers, the risk is likely significantly higher, as many of them are required to drive throughout the night as an inherent part of their occupation.

Our lawyers have litigated countless serious cases where truck drivers drove past their federally regulated hours of service. Driving throughout the night, when many truckers should naturally be sleeping, actually raises many of the same safety issues because of the increased risk of being involved in a crash when driving at night.

In many of the truck accident cases that our Roundtable attorneys handle, the crashes occur late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.

It’s no coincidence.

Truck driver fatigue is one of the most common causes of preventable truck wrecks. In fact, more than 750 people die and 20,000 more are injured each year due directly to fatigued commercial vehicle drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

This study followed 16 night-shift workers who completed two, two-hours daytime driving sessions on a closed driving track at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety. Physiological measures of drowsiness were collected, including “infrared reflectance oculography, electroencephalography, and electrooculography.” Driving performance measures included lane excursions, near-crash events and drives terminated because of failure to maintain control of the vehicle. Here are the results:

  • Eleven near-crashes occurred in 6 of 16 postnight-shift drives (37.5%).
  • Seven of 16 postnight-shift drives (43.8%) were terminated early for safety reasons, compared with zero near-crashes or early drive terminations during 16 postsleep drives.
  • Participants had a significantly higher rate of lane excursions, average Johns Drowsiness Scale, blink duration, and number of slow eye movements during postnight-shift drives compared with postsleep drives.
  • No near-crashes occurred during driving after a night of sleep; while 11 occurred during driving after night-work.

Therefore, the study concluded:

“Night-shift work increases driver drowsiness, degrading driving performance and increasing the risk of near-crash drive events.”

With more than 9.5 million Americans working overnight or rotating shift, and one-third of U.S. commutes exceeding 30 minutes, according to the study authors, these results have serious implications for traffic and occupational safety.
The study authors concluded that policy makers and night workers should consider avoiding/minimizing driving or deploying effective countermeasures when driving after night-shift work to reduce drowsy driving and preventable crashes and injuries in this high-risk population.

For truckers, these recommendations simply don’t fit. These truckers are driving at night. It’s in their job descriptions. If they’re not on the night shift, many are being pressured by the trucking companies they work for to keep on driving so the loads get to the destinations faster. Turning over more miles equals more dollars. Take a look at this blog post I wrote after trucker contacted me explaining why the 10-hour break according to Federal Hours of Service rules isn’t enough.

Steve Gursten

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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