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Drowsy driving prevalent among night shift workers

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital have found that working the night shift leads to an increased risk of drowsy driving, particularly during the commute home. Drowsy driving is considered a public health hazard, affecting people in Florida and across the United States.

For the study, 16 night shift workers participated in a pair of driving sessions on a closed track, with the first session testing their driving abilities after an average of 7.6 hours of sleep and the second testing them after a normal night shift. In the second session, a majority suffered some drowsiness, which was measured by an EEG during micro-sleep periods. A third were forced to end the session by performing emergency braking maneuvers. Moreover, 6 out of the 16 were involved in a near-crash event.

One-half of the sessions ended prematurely with drivers losing control of their vehicle. On average, researchers could detect signs of sleep-related impairment within the first 15 minutes of the second session. This means that even a short commute can be dangerous for night shift workers. While greater education about the causes of drowsy driving, such as a disrupted sleep schedule and a lifestyle that discourages healthy eating and exercise, may be helpful, researchers also recommend that night shift workers seek alternate forms of transportation for their way back home.

Drowsy driving is a common cause of motor vehicle accidents. Occupants of other vehicles who are involved in the crash often sustain serious injuries that require expensive medical care and treatment. Drivers owe a duty of care to others on the road, and this might be breached when a sleep-deprived motorist fails to pull over and instead nods off behind the wheel.

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