January 19th, 2005

Are Long Shifts Dangerous For Drivers?

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Truck drivers and operators as well as law enforcement officials and safety advocates will have the next 45 days to help the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) determine whether or not the 2003 Hours of Service rule for truck drivers is safe and whether the rule has affected drivers’ health and carrier operations.

The rule came under fire last year when a United States appeals court overturned it in July on the grounds that the FMCSA failed to consider the rule’s impact on “the physical condition of the operators.” Later in 2004, the FMCSA announced it would perform its own review and invite comments from interested parties to determine what changes could be made to the rule, including ergonomics, to help protect truck drivers’ health and the safety of other drivers.

The announcement of the 2003 Hours of Service rule re-evaluation comes just days after an unrelated study was released that looked at another occupational-driving hazard: the high rate of traffic accidents caused by medical interns leaving a long work shift.

The study, conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that medical interns leaving extended shifts were six times as likely to report a near-miss accident and twice as likely to get in a car crash on their drive home if their shift was 24-hours or longer.

Nearly 3,000 first-year medical interns were surveyed regarding sleep and driving. Other data considered in the research included police accident reports that indicated that each extended work shift per month could increase the odds of a medical resident getting into an auto accident on the way home from work by 16 percent. Additionally, medical interns responding to the survey reported that they sometimes fell asleep while driving home after a long shift.

“A lot of the lay public doesn’t realize that twice a week most young doctors in this country are forced by hospitals to work these marathon shifts of 30 hours in a row,” senior researcher Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School and head of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the Associated Press. “If they’re going to require these trainees to work such long hours, they should at least provide them with transportation home.”

Sources: Today’s Trucking News; Associated Press



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