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Night shift workers at heightened risk for drowsy driving

While it is well known that night shift workers are prone to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes, there is another issue that may be of more immediate concern. Drowsy driving is a safety hazard in North Carolina and across the U.S. This condition, the result of an irregular sleep schedule, puts night shift workers and others on the road at risk even during daytime commutes on the way home.

A study made by researchers from a Boston hospital has revealed just how dangerous shift work can be. Sixteen night shift workers were asked to participate in two driving sessions: the first after sleeping for the night, the second after completing a shift at work. Researchers measured drowsiness with an EEG during micro-sleep episodes, and driver performance was determined through various mistakes.

For example, half of all sessions ended with the drivers losing control of their vehicles. Six of the drivers had the second session terminated early after getting in near-crashes, and over a third were forced to use emergency braking. The sessions were conducted on a closed driving track. The results have led researchers to push for better education concerning the link between shift work and car accidents, encouraging drivers to find alternate transportation when possible and to pull over at the first sign of drowsiness.

With over 9.5 million Americans working a night or rotational shift, car crashes caused by drowsy driving are all too common. However, it is sometimes difficult to prove sleep deprivation. An attorney representing an injured victim might use the car software to see what types of actions the driver took immediately before the crash.

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