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Shift work a major cause of drowsy driving

Drowsy driving has become a public safety hazard in New York and around the country. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital are concerned that people who work night shifts or rotational shifts are some of the most vulnerable because of the irregularity of their sleep schedule. These people make up 15 percent of America's workforce.

To determine how shift work can worsen driver performance, especially during the commute home, the researchers conducted two driving sessions for 16 night shift workers as part of a study. The participants had varied experience in night shift work. In the first session, they drove on a closed driving track after sleeping for the night. The procedure was repeated for the second session, except that it took place after drivers got off their shift.

The second session was marked by an increase in near-crashes, with six of the drivers being involved in them. Over a third had to use their emergency brakes. Half of all sessions ended with drivers losing control of their vehicles.

Even the veteran night shift workers exhibited reactions that resembled those of drivers with high blood alcohol content. On average, researchers could tell that drivers were drowsy within 15 minutes of each session. Even short commutes are dangerous, the study concludes, and drivers should be better educated on the risks. Drivers should also pull over when feeling drowsy.

Unfortunately, many drivers continue to take risks. When a drowsy driver injures someone in a motor vehicle accident, the victim may want to meet with a personal injury attorney to see what alternatives might be available in terms of seeking compensation.

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