Increasingly, the issue of human fatigue is making headlines as a serious factor in transportation accidents.
In December of 2013, a Metro-North commuter train derailed in the Bronx, New York. As the train rounded a curve prior to reaching the station, its speed was well beyond the recommended limit for that part of the track. The train derailed, dozens of people were injured and four were killed.
Preliminary documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in April 2014 note that the engineer suffered from severe obstructive sleep apnea. When tested in a sleep lab after the accident, the engineer suffered approximately 64 episodes per hour during which he would struggle to breathe.
Although the NTSB made no statement when releasing the medical report, it is likely that the engineer’s sleep apnea and resulting fatigue played a role in this tragic accident.
When investigating truck, train or other accidents, the NTSB and law enforcement agencies look at the following fatigue-related factors:
- Sleep loss — Was there an acute sleep shortage? Is there a chronic sleep issue?
- Hours of wakefulness — How long was the driver on the job? How long did they work without rest?
- Time of day — What time of day was the accident? Did it occur at a time, such as early morning or mid-afternoon, when human circadian rhythms affect the ability to stay alert?
- Sleep disorders — Did the driver or operator suffer from a known disorder, like sleep apnea, that prohibits gaining a good night of rest?
The New York Metro-North engineer was not previously evaluated for sleep apnea, although he had been seen for weight gain, fatigue and low-level depression. Since then, Metro-North has stated it would like to initiate testing for sleep apnea for engineers and possibly other employees.
Drowsy driving of any kind is dangerous. If you are injured in an accident in North Carolina because a driver fell asleep at the wheel, consult an attorney to explore your legal options.