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Likelihood of truck accidents tied to operators' sleep habits

With many American workers struggling to make ends meet, it seems like almost everyone is working longer hours these days. One segment of the workforce, though, is facing pressure to work less. Truck drivers are among the nation's sleepiest laborers, putting themselves at risk for tractor trailer accidents, serious injuries, or truck crashes involving fatalities.

Awareness of truck driver fatigue is nothing new, but a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation discovered that, on average, truckers get less sleep than workers in other occupations. In addition, nearly half of truck drivers surveyed indicated rarely or never receiving adequate, restful sleep on a work night.

Truck operators' drowsiness is more than just an annoyance. The foundation found that 14 percent of truckers reported making a serious error, or experiencing a "near miss," due to tiredness.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has lately considered capping truck drivers' consecutive work hours at 10. The current limit is 11 hours on the road. At the end of last year, the Obama administration also instituted several new rules for truckers, limiting their weekly work hours and mandating two days off following five workdays.

In Virginia, truckers' ability to rest has been shaped by the economy. A few years ago the state closed 19 rest areas, which drivers often utilize to relax before heading back on the road. However, the state did provide increased truck parking at the remaining rest stops.

Unlike in most other professions, truck drivers are permitted to nap while on the clock, usually at rest areas. At the nearby Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, one sleep researcher believes these snoozes are key in creating safe roadways. "We need to better understand how to use naps to reduce sleep deprivation and overcome schedule issues," noted Thomas Balkin.

Source: The Washington Times, "Not getting enough rest a problem for operators of planes, trains, trucks," Ben Wolfgang, March 6, 2012

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