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Are sleepy workers causing NYC transit accidents?

Photo of Christopher Seleski

Let’s face it: Americans, especially New Yorkers, love to play hard and work hard. But is all of this running about causing us to endanger ourselves and our loved ones on the road? New information suggests that NYC transit accidents may be largely attributable to chronic fatigue; that is, our bus drivers and pilots may simply not be getting enough sleep. In fact, studies show that air traffic controllers’ schedules actually lead to increased fatigue, which introduces error and puts New Yorkers at risk.

Information from the Federal Aviation Administration shows that about 60 percent of air traffic controllers have either fallen asleep or become seriously inattentive while driving to and from their shifts. Not only does that bode poorly for our safety in the air — it also endangers those of us who are still on the ground. Those air traffic controllers could be accused of driver negligence if they get into a crash after a long, grueling, overnight shift. Most air traffic controllers only get about three hours of sleep before their midnight shifts — a disturbing statistic, to say the least.

The issue certainly is not limited to air traffic controllers. Consider the Wal-Mart truck driver who was so fatigued that he missed a warning and plowed into famed comedian Tracy Morgan’s vehicle. Semi-truck drivers, pilots, train conductors and commercial drivers all experience serious fatigue that could contribute to a mass transit accident. About 20 percent of airline pilots say that they have made a mistake because of fatigue, and similar numbers of truck drivers and conductors report safety “near miss” incidents because of fatigue.

Although we sympathize with those who work long shifts, the at-fault parties still need to be held responsible for harming those who use public transportation. Agencies and companies need to be held accountable for their failure to abide by federal rest policies, for instance, and mass transit employees need to be enabled to sleep through schedule changes. All of us potentially suffer when mass transit employees fail to get the sleep they need.

Source: Dallas Morning News, “Is chronic fatigue endangering air, road safety?,” Jim Mitchell, Aug. 11, 2015

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