Drowsiness impairs driving of night shift workers

Workers in New York who are heading home after an all-night shift face an increased risk of car accidents. The culprit? Drowsy driving. A team of medical researchers studied the driving abilities of a group of night shift workers on a closed driving track. The research subjects navigated the course after getting roughly seven hours of sleep and then again after working all night.

Researchers measured the subjects' level of drowsiness before each driving session. They took readings of brain electrical activity, eye movement and partial eyelid closures. A comparison of well-rested to sleep-deprived driving sessions revealed that working an all-night shift impaired 37.5 percent of drivers. The drowsy drivers experienced events on the closed track, such as needing to brake suddenly or actually losing control of the vehicle, that could produce crashes in the real world. Researchers could spot impairment caused by lack of sleep within the first 15 minutes of a person's driving session.

One sleep researcher said that the performance of drowsy drivers resembled drivers with alcohol in their systems. Even people who have worked night shifts for a long time were not immune to the impairment caused by being up all night.

Someone who fails to stop driving when unable to stay awake could be held financially responsible for other people's injuries if a crash occurs. A person hurt in a wreck with an impaired driver could ask an attorney who litigates car accidents to assemble the evidence about the crash. Organizing this information into a lawsuit could enable the victim to collect an insurance settlement or win a judgment against the private assets of the responsible driver.

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