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Time of day could be a factor in a tractor-trailer crash

Commercial motor vehicle drivers are professionals used to long hours and rigid schedules. Like everyone else, however, truckers are subject to the control exercised by the body’s internal clock.

The circadian rhythm has a big part in the life of anyone who drives for a living, and it may play a role in accidents that happen on the road.

The daily pattern

The circadian rhythm is the wake/sleep cycle the human body goes through during any 24-hour period. The body's internal clock controls the level of alertness. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducted a study comparing alertness with time of day. The findings indicate that drivers are less alert at night than during the day, and if a driver becomes fatigued due to inadequate sleep or as the result of mental or physical exertion, his or her driving performance may suffer.

Beware of the lull

Prime time for natural drowsiness is between midnight and 6 a.m. and between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. At these times, there is a natural lull in the body's circadian rhythm. Insufficient sleep can have an adverse effect on a truck driver by making a lull stronger and more intense. Drowsiness increases during these periods and heightens the risk of an accident.

More sleep-related issues

Another study indicates that many accidents happen during the first hour of driving. After taking a nap, for example, a driver may get behind the wheel too quickly. He or she may suffer the effects of sleep inertia, or a reduction in vigilance, cognitive function and reaction time. If the circadian lull is in effect, the driver may be unable to resist falling asleep.

Following regulations

Commercial trucking companies and their drivers must adhere to many regulations, some of which speak to the amount of sleep truckers need and the number of hours they may drive before resting. A crash involving a large truck can be a devastating event. Driver safety may hinge on remembering when lulls occur in the body's wake/sleep cycle and the most dangerous times of day for a tractor-trailer accident to occur.

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