There was another recent study, done by Dr. Karen Heaton, a University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Assistant Professor, which deserves mention. Dr. Heaton conducted a study of the sleep habits of long-haul truckers. She describes the 1.5 million long-haul truckers crisscrossing America’s highways as the “most visible non-visible workers in the U.S.” She says that “we see the vehicle, but we never see the person behind the wheel.” Dr. Heaton has a two-year grant for $380,900 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to study the sleep health of long-haul truckers. She says this about the truckers:
They’re salt-of-the-earth people who work hard to make a living under difficult circumstances, and they have significant risk for work-related injuries.
The study involves development of a web-based health intervention that translates a lecture-based sleep, alertness, and fatigue management program into a distance-accessible format. Its success could have an impact on public health and safety, as well as the health and safety of the truckers. Dr. Heaton explained:
There’s an existing program which was created in the nineties, and it’s still very good. But it’s presented live in classrooms, which are difficult for truckers to access. However, many drivers now travel with laptops so they can communicate with employers and family members or play games and watch movies during down time. Most large truck stop chains offer WiFi. So I thought that might be a good venue for delivering health information.
Dr. Heaton is working with 80 truckers to determine whether they like the distance-based program and find it helpful. She also wants to find out whether the program components motivate them to make healthy changes in their sleep practices. Dr. Heaton explained further:
The safest amount of sleep for driving is seven to eight hours a night and truckers tend not to get that for all sorts of reasons. Usually, when a crash involves a commercial vehicle and a passenger vehicle, the driver of the passenger vehicle is at fault. Still, truckers have the highest rates of work-related motor vehicle crashes and the highest number of days missed because of injury.
Interestingly, Dr. Heaton said that drivers sometimes sleep even more erratically at home. She said that’s because they are trying to make up for lost time with their families. Dr. Heaton hopes to continue her work and explore that issue. The ultimate goal of her study is to create much-needed health and safety interventions for these drivers and for their families.
Lawyers in our firm who have been heavily involved with litigation involving large truck crashes understand full well how driver fatigue affects highway safety. Long-haul drivers who are sleep-deprived or too tired to be driving are a definite safety hazard on our nation’s highways. Dr. Heaton’s study should prove helpful in this area of concern.
Sources: The Birmingham News and Claims Journal
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