You probably have heard by now about the recent commuter train derailment at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. In the early morning of Monday, March 24, a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) blue line train jumped its rails and crashed into an escalator, injuring more than 30 people.
It is so weird to see photos of such destruction in a place that I am so familiar with.
Anyhow, this morning it was announced that the train operator informed investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that she had fallen asleep at the controls before the accident.
Here is the surveillance video that captured the incident:
According to lead investigator Ted Turpin, the train operator indicated that she had “dozed off prior to entering the [O’Hare] station and did not awake again until the train hit close to the end of the bumper.” She also told investigators that in an earlier incident, in February, she had fallen asleep at the controls and subsequently overshot a train stop.
This accident at O’Hare occurred at 2:50 a.m. CST.
It kind of goes without saying that drowsy driving is dangerous, but you may be surprised as to how big of a deal this problem actually is. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), roughly 100,000 police-reported motor vehicle accidents occur in the United States each year; of these, roughly 40,000 injuries occur and 1,550 people die. These statistics don’t include the accidents that are never reported. Unfortunately, work and driving accidents in the early morning are far too common, though usually not quite as dramatic as this particular event. Many of these NHTSA-reported vehicular accidents occur in the early morning, between 2 and 7 a.m.
Further complicating matters is the fact that this tendency toward drowsy driving can be related to many potential underlying causes: work schedules (particularly schedules that rotate in terms of the timing), home circumstances and social obligations, chronic sleep deprivation, a need to work two jobs, undiagnosed sleep disorders, and irregular sleep schedules. Many of us can relate to most, if not all, of these causes, which again speaks to how common and problematic drowsy driving can be.
I can’t emphasize the following take-home points enough:
1. NEVER DRIVE OR OPERATE MACHINERY (including any kind of vehicle) IF YOU ARE DROWSY!!! It simply isn’t worth it to retain your job or get somewhere on time by risking your life or the life of others around you. Pull over, stop your work, speak with your supervisor, whatever it takes.
2. ALWAYS STRIVE TO GET PROPER AMOUNTS OF SLEEP (which for most adults is between 7.5 and 8 hours per night) AND KEEP YOUR SLEEP SCHEDULES REGULAR. In other words, get as much sleep as your body needs, and get this much sleep regularly, every day at around the same time of day, even if you work night shifts.
3. If you don’t know WHY you are drowsy when you’re supposed to be awake, SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION. If you are sleepy despite proper amounts of sleep and regular sleep timing, you may have an intrinsic sleep disorder. Fixing abnormal sleepiness is one of the functions of a physician sleep specialist.
In closing, I want to give a shout-out to our nation’s first responders. May we never take them for granted. We’ve had a lot of disasters recently, it seems, including one geographically very close to me (the tragic, huge March 22 mudslide in Oso, Washington). Here is a link for those who wish to help in the Oso landslide relief efforts:
Stay SAFE, everyone.