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Study: Non-traditional Work Hours Increase Car Crash Risk

study shines light on shift work sleep disorderWhile the past year has caused a massive, nationwide change in how many of us view work and the need for the traditional away-from-home workplace, that option remains unavailable to millions of others. Stores still need to be staffed and tended to, hospitals never stop taking care of sick people, fire and police department operations continue around the clock, and a whole host of other occupations demand that the person venture out and “go to work.”

For many of them, that involves shift work outside of the normal 9-5 and puts them at work while the rest of their community is sound asleep. The so-called ‘graveyard’ shift and other overnight work shifts have come under scrutiny in a new study that finds that people who work these overnight shifts are three times more likely to be involved in a car crash than someone working a normal daytime shift.

The study references a medical condition known as shift work sleep disorder and describes it as chronic. Its conclusions are based on real-world data supplied by the Strategic Highway Research Program which is a federally established research effort. It is among the first research efforts that use real-world data rather than controlled experiments like driving simulator tests in a lab environment. “Our study goes a step further by using actual observed crash and near-crash data from approximately 2,000 events occurring in six U.S. states,” says one of the study’s authors. “We’ve known for a while now that sleep disorders increase crash risk, but here we are able to quantify that risk using real world crash data while accounting for confounding variables such as roadway and traffic characteristics.”

The researchers hope that the study can be used to encourage additional investment in highway rest stops as well as in-vehicle systems to monitor and, if needed, intervene and warn them that they may not be driving at their full capacity.