Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mississippi Sleep Criminal

The case of John L. White, a Mississippi commercial truck driver, sounds like an accident—and now a pending law suit—that didn’t have to happen.
White of Gulfport, recently collided his vehicle into a tractor-trailer, causing the death of one man and a multiple-vehicle pile up. Sadly, White is charged with involuntary manslaughter and accused of violating sleep requirements.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. What’s more, approximately 5,600 people are killed annually in crashes involving commercial trucks. While not all of these can be attributed to sleep disorders or drowsiness, research shows that commercial drivers are at risk for everything from highway hypnosis to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).In the case of 42-year-old trucker John White, court records say he violated commercial truck driving laws requiring at least eight hours of sleep within a certain period of time on the road. According to the Kansas City Star, White was hauling a load of bananas to a Wal-Mart distribution center when he attempted to cross over US 71 and collided with a tractor-trailer. Tragically, the driver of that vehicle, Steven B. Cousineau of Wisconsin, was pronounced dead at the scene. In addition, the crash caused two other motor vehicle wrecks, but none of the other drivers reported any injuries. The news report makes no mention of White suffering from a sleep disorder and does not clearly state that he fell asleep at the wheel. The case is focused strictly on his state of sleep deprivation while on duty. A recent study by University of Pennsylvania researchers looked at why so many commercial drivers get drowsy or fall asleep at the wheel. They concluded that the two biggest culprits are chronically insufficient sleep and obstructive sleep apnea. Of the 247 commercial drivers tested by the researchers, the percentage of drivers with two or three performance impairments after less than 5 hours of sleep was 49.5%. Clearly, there is good reason for commercial drivers to abide by sleep laws intended for their own safety and the safety of others.

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