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Shift workers more likely to be affected by drowsy driving

Long hours and nontraditional work schedules make Kentucky roads more dangerous, according to a study of night shift employees. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital studied 16 people who work the night shift and found an increased risk for car accidents among the group.

The people who were studied drove in two driving sessions on a closed track. The study used partial eyelid closures and micro-sleep episodes to calculate drowsiness among the drivers. The performance of the drivers was evaluated based on instances of failure to maintain control, weaving among lanes and near crashes.

The study found that a majority of drivers suffered from an increase in drowsiness after they had worked the night shift. During the driving sessions that occurred after night shift work, 37.5 percent of drivers had a near crash event. On average, the researchers saw evidence of impairment due to lack of sleep during the first 15 minutes of the driving sessions. Drivers lost control of their vehicles in half of the post night shift drives.

A doctor and chief of BWH's Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders called drowsy driving a major public health hazard. He also said it was preventable. More than 9.5 million workers in the United States work rotating shifts or overnight schedules. According to the BWH research team, 28 percent of drivers said they had fallen asleep at the wheel at least once during the prior year.

In a case where an individual is injured in a car accident that was caused by a drowsy driver, an attorney may be able to help seek compensation for medical bills and other losses. The attorney could use eyewitness testimony and other evidence to help establish negligence.

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