Get­ting enough rest a prob­lem for op­er­a­tors of planes, trains, trucks

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation -

The na­tion’s pi­lots, truck­ers and train engineers are in need of some shut-eye. And not just one of those gulps of in­stant en­ergy. Ac­cord­ing to a ma­jor new study from the Na­tional Sleep Foun­da­tion, these trans­porta­tion op­er­a­tors are sleepier than av­er­age Amer­i­can em­ploy­ees, and the lack of rest puts them at greater risk for ac­ci­dents.

About 26 per­cent of train op­er­a­tors and 23 per­cent of pi­lots say sleepi­ness af­fects their job per­for­mance at least once a week, com­pared to 17 per­cent of work­ers in non­trans­porta­tion jobs. One in five pi­lots, along with 18 per­cent of train op­er­a­tors and 14 per­cent of big-rig driv­ers, re­port that they’ve made “a se­ri­ous er­ror” or had a “near miss” as a re­sult of be­ing tired, the study shows.

About 6 per­cent of pi­lots and train op­er­a­tors say a lack of sleep has di­rectly led to a car ac­ci­dent dur­ing their com­mutes to or from work, com­pared to just 1 per­cent of work­ers out­side the trans­porta­tion busi­ness.

Nearly 60 per­cent of train op­er­a­tors, half of all pi­lots and 44 per­cent of truck driv­ers say they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on a work night, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey. Mean­while, the same com­plaint came from just 29 per­cent of bus driv­ers, taxi driv­ers and limou­sine op­er­a­tors, who re­port that their sched­ules al­low more reg­u­lar and sleep-friendly hours than those other trans­porta­tion work­ers.

“The mar­gin of er­ror in these pro­fes­sions is ex­tremely small. Trans­porta­tion pro­fes­sion­als need to man­age sleep to per­form at their best,” said David Cloud, CEO of the Na­tional Sleep Foun­da­tion. “As in­di­vid­u­als and em­ploy­ers, we need to know more about how sleep im­proves per­for­mance.”

The sleepi­ness of Amer­ica’s pi­lots and truck driv­ers has got­ten plenty of at­ten­tion from fed­eral of­fi­cials in re­cent months, and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­cently crafted new rules to gov­ern the work sched­ules of em­ploy­ees in both sec­tors.

In late De­cem­ber, the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased new guide­lines for pi­lots, re­quir­ing that they take at least 10 hours off be­tween shifts, a twohour in­crease over pre­vi­ous stan­dards.

That same month, fed­eral of­fi­cials un­veiled new “hours of ser­vice” rules for trac­tor-trailer driv­ers, which cut the max­i­mum work week from 82 hours to 70 hours. The mea­sure also in­sti­tuted a 34-hour “restart pe­riod” each week, meant to en­sure driv­ers get two days off for ev­ery five days on the job.

But the restart pro­vi­sion pro­hibits driv­ers from get­ting back be­hind the wheel be­fore 5 a.m., and in­dus­try lead­ers be­lieve that the man­dated start time will do lit­tle to im­prove road­way safety and will in­stead lead to heav­ier traf­fic con­ges­tion dur­ing morn­ing rush hour.

Last month, the Amer­i­can Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion filed suit in D.C. Cir­cuit Court ask­ing a judge to re­view the new reg­u­la­tions, which were writ­ten by the Fed­eral Mo­tor Car­rier Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion, an arm of the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment.

“This is an is­sue that’s not go­ing to be set­tled any­time soon,” ATA spokesman Sean Mcnally said. “It’s im­por­tant to say that not ev­ery­thing in [the sleep foun­da­tion re­port] is nec­es­sar­ily good for the truck­ing in­dus­try. There are clearly ar­eas that we need to make im­prove­ment on. But the driv­ers we talk to tell us that they know their bod­ies, they know when they’re tired.”

While truck driv­ers and other trans­porta­tion work­ers may get less sleep be­tween shifts, they of­ten en­joy some­thing most em­ploy­ees can only dream of: naps dur­ing the work day.

Nearly 60 per­cent of pi­lots and 56 per­cent of train op­er­a­tors re­port tak­ing at least one nap dur­ing the day, com­pared to 27 per­cent of work­ers out­side the in­dus­try. One out of ev­ery five truck driv­ers re­ports tak­ing three to five naps dur­ing the work week, the study shows.

Of those snooz­ing work­ers, half of all pi­lots, 42 per­cent of truck driv­ers and 33 per­cent of train op­er­a­tors re­ported re­cently tak­ing a nap while on the clock. Only 19 per­cent of non­trans­porta­tion work­ers say they nap dur­ing their shifts.

“Trans­porta­tion work­ers have chal­leng­ing sched­ules that com­pete with the nat­u­ral need for sleep,” said Thomas Balkin, a sleep re­searcher at the Wal­ter Reed Army In­sti­tute of Re­search. “While I’m im­pressed that trans­porta­tion pro­fes­sion­als nap when they are off duty, we need to bet­ter un­der­stand how to use naps to re­duce sleep de­pri­va­tion and over­come sched­ule is­sues.”

The sur­vey, the first to ask trans­porta­tion em­ploy­ees about their sleep habits, was based on in­ter­views with 1,087 work­ing adults, in­clud­ing 202 pi­lots, 203 truck driv­ers, 180 rail work­ers, 210 bus, limou­sine or taxi driv­ers, and 292 peo­ple work­ing out­side the trans­porta­tion sec­tor.


A 2007 bus crash in Ken­tucky was blamed on a driver who dozed off. A study by the Na­tional Sleep Foun­da­tion finds that trans­porta­tion op­er­a­tors are sleepier than the av­er­age Amer­i­can em­ployee, although bus op­er­a­tors are less likely to be suf­fer­ing from a lack of sleep than pi­lots, train engineers and truck driv­ers.

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