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The circadian rhythm and a truck-car crash waiting to happen

For the most part, commercial truck drivers are responsible professionals. However, if the big rig in the lane next to you begins weaving, you likely begin worrying.

That big rig is much bigger than your hybrid. Is the driver falling asleep at the wheel? Has the circadian rhythm kicked in?

What it is

Every day and every night our bodies go through a wake-sleep cycle known as the circadian rhythm. This cycle affects our internal clock and controls the day-to-day level of alertness. There are natural lulls in the circadian rhythm. If a truck driver, for example, experiences a lull while driving, the pull toward drowsiness will be stronger than normal, especially if he or she has had insufficient sleep before getting behind the wheel.

The most dangerous times

We become naturally drowsy in the early morning hours between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m., and in the afternoon from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. These are the times when a truck driver, who spends long hours on the road, is more likely to succumb to drowsiness and, consequently, more apt to drive erratically.

Fighting fatigue

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration studies natural events like the circadian rhythm because of its effect on commercial truck drivers. They are then able to provide insight and tips to help truckers avoid situations that can endanger themselves and others. For example, the FMCSA urges drivers against the excessive intake of caffeine, which can result in nervousness and insomnia. Drinking coffee, rolling down the window or turning up the volume on the radio provides only short bursts of energy. Ideally, a drowsy trucker should pull over to take a nap, then wait at least 15 minutes to come fully awake before heading out on the road again.

Staying safe

As the victim of a truck-car crash, you could sustain serious injuries, and your hybrid could be totaled. From a legal point of view, a detailed investigation of the accident would include an examination of the black box, the driver’s log book and the crash site itself. Perhaps drowsiness, possibly caused during a lull in the circadian rhythm, had a part to play in the accident. In any case, it would be far better if you could maneuver your car past the weaving big rig and continue your trip without incident.

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