Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital have conducted a study to determine the link between night or rotating shift work, which over 9.5 million Americans are employed in, and drowsy driving, which is considered a public health hazard. While many people in New Mexico and across the U.S. are aware that shift work increases the risk for medical conditions like heart disease, drowsiness may be the more immediately pressing issue.

16 night shift workers with varying years of experience were selected to participate in two driving sessions on a closed track. The initial session took place after participants had an average of 7.6 hours of sleep, the second after they had worked a night shift. Drowsiness and poor driving performance were hallmarks of the second session.

Six of the drivers ended their second session with a near-crash event, while over a third ended with an emergency braking maneuver. Researchers could observe signs of drowsiness in the drivers, on average, within the first 15 minutes of each session. This drowsiness caused half of the sessions to end early when drivers failed to maintain control of their vehicles. Researchers believe that drowsy driving is a preventable hazard. People can become better educated and pull over at the first sign of drowsiness rather than take risks. They also encourage night shift workers to find alternate transportation for their commute home.

Still, many car crashes are caused by drivers who are drowsy or who fall asleep completely at the wheel. Occupants of other vehicles who have been injured in such a crash might find that having the assistance of an attorney is advisable when attempting to seek compensation for their medical bills and other losses.