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Fatigue and crash risks

Because of the long workdays on the roads, truckers are often under fire for driving while fatigued. Certainly it is true that you do not want to be on the highway next to an 80,000 pound truck while its operator is struggling to stay awake, but according to a new study by AAA, anyone who misses an hour or two of sleep may be putting everyone else on the road at risk of a crash.

Hours of sleep and crash rates

If you sleep four or five hours each night, you share a risk category with drivers in the study who had a 5.4 times higher crash rate than those who sleep at least seven hours out of the previous 24. However, deviating from your normal amount of sleep can put you in danger, even if you slept more than seven hours. People who slept just one or two hours less than they normally did increased their crash rate by 1.3 times, and losing four hours from the normal sleep amount may result in a rate 10.2 times higher.

These statistics may be more alarming when considered alongside data gathered by federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They report that 35 percent of drivers over the age of 18 typically get fewer than seven hours of sleep per night, and that 2 percent report sleeping fewer than four hours. Research suggests that, in 16 to 21 percent of fatal crashes, drowsy driving is a factor.

Sleep deprivation and physical response

You may feel confident getting behind the wheel after missing some sleep because you are not tired and are not afraid that you will nod off. However, falling asleep at the wheel is not the only issue you face when you lose an hour or more of sleep. The results could be much subtler. Even though your eyes are open, your brain is not processing information as quickly. You are more likely to be less attentive to the task of driving, and your reactions may be slower and less accurate.

If this reminds you of physical responses to alcohol, you are on track. Research shows that after 18 hours awake, your impairment is the same as that of someone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent. Once you have been awake for 24 hours in a row, it doubles to 0.10 percent.

Getting a good night's sleep can make you a better driver, but you may not be able to avoid a crash with someone who did not rest well last night. An attorney may be able to help you gather evidence, file paperwork with insurance companies and even take your case to court if necessary to seek the compensation you are entitled to.

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