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Sleep-deprived truckers are a disaster waiting to happen

If you don't believe that drowsiness, sleep deprivation and fatigue present any real danger, consider the fact that history blames sleep deprivation for disasters such as the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl. One drowsy driver isn't going to cause that kind of devastation, but it's not just one drowsy driver. Research indicates that approximately 168 million people drove without adequate sleep last year.

How do experts define drowsy driving?

If you drive while sleep deprived, drowsy or fatigued, that's drowsy driving. Consider the following correlations to drunk driving:

  • Going without sleep for 18 hours equals a blood alcohol concentration level between .05 and .08.
  • The effects of sleep deprivation on driving are analogous to distracted or drunk driving.
  • Research indicates that drunk drivers had more success navigating a vehicle than sleep-deprived subjects.

As you can see, drowsy driving presents a significant danger to you and others on the road. When investigators indicate that drowsy driving played a role in an accident, they most often site a lack of skid marks or any attempt to avoid the collision.

Have you heard of microsleep?

Experts define microsleep as short and unexpected periods of light sleep. When you conduct the same tasks repeatedly, your attention to them often diminishes and you conduct them without thinking. Driving qualifies as one of these tasks, especially for truck drivers. If you suffer from sleep deprivation, fatigue or drowsiness while conducting one of these activities, your brain could "shut off" for a brief time.

If you feel like you zone out, stare off into space or your mind otherwise drifts away from the task, you could experience a microsleep. Being in this state for even a few seconds could drastically change the traffic around you and might lead to an accident during one of these episodes.

How can I prevent microsleep?

Now that you understand the dangers associated with driving while sleep deprived, you can follow simple steps to help prevent dangerous microsleeps while driving, especially if you do so for long distances as truckers do.

  • Be sure that you get enough sleep. Sleep experts recommend that everyone sleep between seven and nine hours per night. Getting less than six hours of sleep a night triples your risk of an accident.
  • Take frequent breaks. A brief stop every two hours, or approximately every 100 miles, helps keep you awake and refreshed.
  • Enjoy a 20-minute power nap. Even short naps can reduce your risk of causing an accident. Be sure to pull over into a safe place.
  • Drink an amount of caffeine equal to approximately two cups of coffee. The caffeine takes about half an hour to work its way through your system, so time your consumption accordingly.

Bringing a second person along for the ride could help, since he or she might notice when you seem tired and could drive for a while and keep you awake by talking to you.

If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one to an accident involving a sleep-deprived trucker, an investigation into the days and hours leading up to the crash could prove invaluable. If the evidence indicates that the trucker failed to get adequate sleep during that time, it might prove negligence. Successfully showing a New York civil court that the serious or fatal injuries suffered resulted from the negligence of the truck driver could mean an award of damages for you.

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