Asleep at the Wheel

Florence Cardinal Health Guide July 03, 2008
  • The number of accidents caused by drowsy driving continues to mount. According to the National Sleep Foundation's Sleep in America poll, 60% of Americans have driven while feeling sleepy and 37% admit to actually having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year.

     

    Jumbo jets today carry hundreds of passengers. Those passengers put their lives in the hands of the men who fly the plane. Just how secure would those passengers feel if they knew the pilot was asleep?

     

    This happened and was reported in the news. The article explained: "Pilot says he fell asleep during one of his flights." It gets worse. The captain was also asleep. The pilot estimates that the naps lasted about thirty minutes. Think of it. For thirty minutes, no one was flying that plane! The reason? An unscheduled flight and inadequate sleep.

     

    No vehicles, it seems, are immune. Drivers of trucks, busses and trains have all been known to fall asleep at the controls, causing accidents and near accidents.

     

    Ships must be included in the list. Case in point: When the Exxon Valdez went aground off Alaska, first reports said the accident was caused by a drunken captain. Later investigation, however, suggested that the captain had turned over command to his first mate who was extremely sleep deprived. He had slept only six hours in the previous 48. The cleanup of the spill cost more than two billion dollars and the damage to the environment was tremendous.

     

    A recent article from Associated Press tells us of yet another and more recent ship mishap possibly caused by sleep deprivation. A container ship, piloted by Captain John Cota struck a bridge support tower in San Francisco Bay. The accident, which occurred in November of last year, caused the worst oil spill the Bay has ever experienced.

     

    Medical tests revealed that Captain Cota was being treated for sleep apnea. However, to add to the seriousness of his actions, he had lied to the Coast Guard about his medical record. Sleep apnea is ruled a "disqualifying medical condition."

     

    Captain Cota has opted to retire. There may be a hearing before an administrative law judge in September.