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Does Working Night Shift Increase the Likelihood of a Car Accident?

Does Working the Night Shift Increase the Likelihood of a Car Accident?


A recent study at the University of Missouri reveals that night shift workers are at a much higher risk of having a car accident than other drivers with sleep issues. Published in Safety Science, the researchers showed data collected as part of the second Strategic Highway Research Program, which was commissioned by Congress. The researchers examined the data on driving incidents between 2006 and 2015.

The study compared shift work drivers with sleep trouble to drivers who had two other established sleep issues: sleep apnea and insomnia. The data showed that drivers who worked non-traditional hours were more likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash.

Drivers with sleep apnea or insomnia experienced 30 percent increase in their risk of car accidents or near-crashes than those without sleep issues. The study concluded that those suffering from shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) were at a 300 percent higher risk than that of the average driver.

What is SWSD?

SWSD is a sleep condition that occurs when people work at night and sleep during the day. The practice of disrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythms can cause sleep issues and other health complications for many shift workers.

People suffering from the disorder experience difficulty in keeping a routine sleep schedule with predictable sleep and wake times. They often have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. This makes it challenging to get adequate sleep and to wake feeling rested and revived. Moreover, it affects people throughout their day, as the University of Missouri study shows. Approximately 20 percent of workers perform some type of shift work, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Sleep disorders may affect as many as 10 to 40 percent of those workers, potentially affecting millions of workers in the United States.

Why is Lack of Sleep so Dangerous?

A separate study at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital examined 16 night shift workers and looked at their brain activity while they drove. Although the night shift workers were operating on a non-traditional schedule, they averaged 7.6 hours of sleep per night going into the study. An electroencephalogram (EEG), which is a tool that measures electric impulses in the brain using electrodes attached to the scalp, recorded the effects of sleepiness on the participants.

During two-hour driving sessions, the EEG showed signs of impairment within the first few minutes of the drive, as compared to the results found in the EEG tests of a control group with normal sleep patterns. Several participants became dangerously drowsy. Over one-third of the driving sessions ended when emergency braking maneuvers were used, and half of all of the sessions stopped because the drivers lost control of their vehicle.

It is important to mention that drowsy driving accidents can still happen during the day. Motorists who drive after working an overnight shift without enough rest can show similar driving behaviors to those under the influence of alcohol.

How can a Motorist Reduce Their Risk of Drowsy Driving?

Shift workers who are concerned about reducing the risk of drowsy driving should take time to rest before they get behind the wheel at the end of a long overnight shift. Employers might consider making accommodations for employees to get this essential rest.

If a nap is not possible, shift workers should avoid driving if they feel too tired. Other transportation alternatives, such as calling a taxi, arranging for a pick-up from a rideshare company, or taking public transit, are all viable options to avoid getting behind the wheel without enough rest.

What are the Signs of Driver Fatigue?

It is not always easy to detect when fatigue becomes too intense to drive safely. Before getting ready to drive, it can help to review what signs indicate overtiredness that can affect driving safety, such as:


  • Yawning: An obvious sign of fatigue is yawning, which indicates that the driver is sleepy.

  • Heavy Eyes: Drivers whose eyes close involuntarily or blink very frequently probably need rest.

  • Daydreaming: Motorists who find themselves lost in thought might be too unfocused to drive due to exhaustion.

  • Agitation: Irritability can indicate overtiredness that only a nap can fix.

  • Missing Exits: Losing focus on the route can mean that concentration is affected by driver fatigue or exhaustion.

  • Swerving: Losing momentary control due to drowsiness is extremely dangerous, and the driver should immediately pull over to a safe location to rest.


Highland Park Car Accident Lawyers the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr Represent Clients Hurt in Nighttime Crashes

Extreme driver fatigue is very dangerous, and if you were hurt in an accident that was caused by a drowsy motorist, you might be able to collect damages for your losses, including damages for surgeries, doctor visits, medical tests, and other treatments. You may be able to collect lost wages if you were unable to work due to your car accident injuries. The experienced Highland Park car accident lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr can help you understand your rights and build a case for you. To learn more about how we can help you, call us at 732-537-8570 or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation. Located in Highland Park, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout New Brunswick, Somerset, Piscataway, Edison, South River, Sayreville, Metuchen, East Brunswick, South Plainfield, Fords, Middlesex, Old Bridge, Iselin, Bound Brook, Perth Amboy, Colonia, Elizabeth, and Newark.

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