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Fatigue greatly increases chances of car accidents. According to a 5 year study published in the December 2012 issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 56 percent of the 300+ internal medicine residents surveyed were involved in motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) or near misses. More specifically, 11.3 percent were involved in crashes while an additional 43.3 percent were involved in near misses. Additionally, many residents also reported falling asleep at the wheel, both while driving and while stopped. You can view the full details of this study here.
According to Dr. Colin West, the primary author of the study referenced above, this was the first long-term study that closely examined the detrimental effects of fatigue on physicians. Previous to this study, there were several studies that examined the effects of physician fatigue on their patients but no one had ever done a long term study on how a doctor’s own fatigue could lead to injuries to himself or herself. However, there have been shorter term studies that suggest similar trends.
While the article did not emphasize this point, the implications of this study are that doctor fatigue can also put other motorists and pedestrians that share the road with these exhausted doctors, as they attempt to drive after their marathon shifts, at a much higher risk than normal. For example, one doctor who commented on the study reported that she could not even make it all the way home safely without pulling into a rest stop to take a nap after being on duty for 36 hours straight! Even though she had only 15 more minutes drive time to get home, she simply could not keep her eyes open. Needless to say, a doctor in this condition is a motor vehicle accident waiting to happen and a severe hazard to anyone who is unlucky enough to share the road with them.
We must all be aware of such potential hazards that are beyond our control when we drive. We share the road with people who should not be driving because they are severely impaired by fatigue and/or sleepiness. For example, if you happen to live in a college town, you may want to take special care when you drive the roads near the time of final exams. Many college students are so busy cramming for tests, they get little to no sleep, yet most of them still drive in this impaired condition. Some cross country truckers are known to sometimes bend their own company’s rules about resting in order to make a deadline. However, at least professional truckers are trained to think about sleep as an important factor as to whether or not they should be on the road or catching some winks at a truck stop. Non-driving professionals like doctors and other tired individuals like college students may not realize how impaired, and therefore dangerous, they really are. As a consequence, they put themselves and others at significant risk of accident injuries.
The Mayo Clinic study may draw much needed new attention to the problem of driving while too fatigued since the Mayo Clinic is a well respected research institute and this particular study seems quite robust in its scientific design. Although this was not the primary purpose of the study, it may end up being one of the most important outcomes. They are already talking about ways to mitigate for this risk. However, the news media and the American public may insist they take it even further. Perhaps doctors who are too tired to get behind the wheel of a vehicle should be required to rest a while before they drive home. In some cases, public transportation or a friend or spouse picking them up may make more sense. When it comes to endangering so many lives, the cost of a taxi cab ride may be well worth it. Perhaps colleagues should start taking their keys away from them as you would do for a friend in a bar who has had too much to drink. Many recent fatal car accidents in California are a result of driver fatigue or drunk driving.
It is interesting to note that the original research paper did not mention any statistics on the probability that an average person may be involved in a car crash, near miss, or falling asleep at the wheel. In other words, no meaningful comparison, or point of reference, was given to show how significant this study may actually be. In this context, it may be useful to consider some information and data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation:
1. The NHTSA estimates that the average American has a 30 percent chance of being in a serious vehicle accident over the course of their lifetime. This is less than 0.5 percent chance per year of being in a serious vehicle accident. Compare this to the 11.3 percent of the internal medical interns who crashed over a much shorter 5 year period!
2. The probability of death is higher in vehicular crashes involving someone who is sleepy. The reason for this is that the fatigued driver’s reflexes are slower and they are not as capable of slowing down and/or taking a corrective action to lessen the severity of the crash. Crashes involving a sleepy person also have a higher probability of occurring at higher speeds. In fact, a sleepy driver may not even attempt to avoid the crash or slow down at all. This would certainly be true if they completely fall asleep.
3. The NHTSA also cites a much earlier 1996 study (Marcus and Loughlin) that showed that 25 percent of interns and residents at a large urban medical school, who averaged only 3 hours of sleep per 33 hour on-call shifts, had been involved in vehicular crashes. Most of these crashes occurred right after their shift ended as they were driving home. This study also showed these same doctors often fell asleep when stopped at traffic lights. Doctors working too long without sleep are a significant risk for causing very bad car accidents.
If you are involved in a car crash or other type of accident involving a sleepy driver, you are entitled to be compensated for all of your injuries. These may go well beyond your medical expenses too. Keep this mind: you should never attempt to negotiate directly with the insurance companies or even just let your insurance company handle it. If you do so, you will likely not be treated fairly. You should instead immediately contact a car accident attorney who has experience in successfully settling these types of cases. It is actually a good idea to keep the number of a good personal injury attorney in the glove box of your car so you can have it handy just in case of an emergency.
Contact the injury lawyers at The May Firm’s number is (805) 980-7758 and we have a great deal of experience in getting good settlements for our clients in these types of cases. Our initial consultation is free, and if we accept your case, we do not charge anything upfront. We are licensed in the state of California with offices in San Luis Obispo CA, Santa Maria CA, Santa Barbara CA, Ventura CA, Bakersfield CA and Fresno CA. If you have a question about car accident caused by driver fatigue, call the car accident attorneys at The May Firm for a free case consultation.
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