New Study Finds Large Number of Pilots, Truck Drivers Sleep-Deprived

New Study Finds Large Number of Pilots, Truck Drivers Sleep-DeprivedThe findings of a new survey suggest one in 10 American truck drivers, train conductors, airline pilots and other transportation workers could be at the helm despite being dangerously sleep-deprived, HealthDay reports.

A number of operators said they regularly feel drowsy while working, and others conceded that their fatigue could pose a threat to commuter safety. The poll, conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, found that as many as 11 percent of these workers operate their mode of transportation while sleepy, compared to 7 percent of non-transportation workers.

“It is exciting that we are finally able to see the statistics and hopefully do something to improve the situations for our transportation workers,” sleep medicine expert Joyce Walsleben said.

Walsleben, an associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine in New York City, added that a large number of transportation workers “are forced to work horrendous schedules, which puts us all in jeopardy. Too many societal tragedies have already occurred because of sleepiness.”

The effects of sleep-deprived transportation workers are often seen in crashes around the country. On Sunday, March 4, a tractor trailer flipped on Interstate 12 in Louisiana, skidding on the road and slamming into the guardrail before sliding into a ditch, The Advocate reports.

Investigators have have concluded that the truck was heading west on the Interstate when the driver dozed off at about 2:45 a.m. near the intersection with La. 447. While the accident closed traffic for hours, no injuries were reported.

NSF said the study was conducted earlier in 2012 and is the first of its kind, involving nearly 1,100 truck drivers, pilots, train engineers and conductors as well as bus, taxi and limousine drivers. Researchers also assessed non-transportation workers for context. All participants in the study were over the age of 25.

The findings showed about one in four train operators and airline pilots admitted job performance suffered due to lack of sleep at least once a weak, compared to one in six non-transportation workers who said fatigue had previously affected their work.

In the poll’s category of “sleep dissatisfaction”, pilots and train operators showed the worst results, with 50 percent and 57 percent, respectively, stating they rarely-to-never get an appropriate amount of sleep on nights when they are on the clock. Other transportation employees were not far behind, with 44 percent of truck drivers stating they had the same degree of sleep dissatisfaction.

The researchers say the poll raises new safety concerns, with 20 percent of pilots admitting to have reported a “serious error” when flying due to fatigue, and just less than 20 percent of train operators stating sleepiness was the cause of a “near miss.” Also, 14 percent of truck drivers stated fatigue had caused similar errors.

The survey found that because transportation workers’ shifts often change unexpectedly, sleepiness on the job also translates to dangerous fatigue during their commute to work. The results indicated 6 percent of pilots and train operators said they have been in car accidents on their way to work, compared to just 1 percent of non-transportation workers who took part in the survey.

“Transportation workers experience considerable variability in the days they work, the times they work and the amount of time off between shifts,” Patrick Sherry, a sleep researcher and professor from the University of Denver Intermodal Transportation Institute, said in the NSF news release. “This makes it difficult for such workers to maintain regular sleep/wake schedules, which can, in turn, make it difficult for these workers to maintain alertness on the job.”