Chicago O’Hare Train Accident Thought Related to Operator Sleepiness

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:

http://www.king5.com/news/breaker1/Northwest-Response-Oso-Mudslide-Relief-252007821.html

Stay SAFE, everyone.

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Insomnia . . . For Wichita State and Gonzaga

I am and always will be a Kansas Jayhawk.  But my first awareness of college basketball was thanks to Wichita State University, the very school whose team just advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA men’s national college basketball tournament by trouncing top-seeded and top-ranked Gonzaga last night.

Wichita State was an integral part of my childhood.  My dad was a professor there for decades, teaching criminology, editing the journal he founded, The International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, and solidifying his legacy in the field of administration of justice.  I also took math, literature, and computer science classes there in the summer while I was in high school.  And, importantly, WSU’s infamous basketball coach, Gene Smithson, lived three doors down from us.  Growing up, we looked up to him and the young men he coached–particularly Antoine Carr and Xavier McDaniel, who subsequently became nationally recognized professional basketball players.  Smithson popularized (and perhaps even invented) the term “MTXE”–“mental toughness, extra effort.”  I live by this phrase every day.

 

So I have to say I was very pleased with WSU’s win over the Bulldogs last night.  As a Kansas native now living in Washington state, I empathize with both teams and their fans.  Nobody with ties to either school slept very well last night.

Here’s the Wichita State Shocker in bed.  You just watched your team pull down the heretofore #1 ranked college basketball team in the country.  Only now that you’re in bed are you processing what this huge upset means for you and your fellow Wu-Shocks.  It’s pure rapture.  You’re in the Sweet Sixteen in a year of absolute mayhem in men’s college basketball.  There’s no clear, inarguable favorite to take the title like there was last year.  It’s anybody’s tournament; any team can win it all.  This year it might, just might, be the Shockers!  Your head is buzzing from all this emotion and mental racket.  You imagine the improbable run to the championship game, a buzzer-beating final shot that clinches the title, the ticker-tape parade down Douglas Street.  How are you gonna sleep with all that adrenalin running through your brain?

Here’s the Gonzaga Bulldog in bed.  You’ve become tired of the pundits and analysts saying that Gonzaga became #1 by default.  You’ve just heard Dick Vitale on ESPN predicting loudly that “the Shockers are gonna shock the nation.”  Sure, your school is in the West Coast Conference, but you’ve had some wins against quality non-conference teams this season, and going into the Big Dance you know the Bulldogs now have the chance to prove the nay-sayers wrong.  And then . . . crushing, unmitigated defeat–in the third round.  It’s like someone ran over your dog and then sped off.  You feel helpless and in despair, left with the bitter reality of the loss.  You go to bed truly in mourning, knowing the mourning will only continue upon awakening the next day.  How can you hope to sleep tonight, knowing that any temporary rest will bring only minimal reprieve and solace?

Man, I’ve gone to bed both ways every late March and early April for years.  I know exactly how it feels.  And the fact is that all of us have, basketball fan or not, for one reason or another, throughout our lives.  Why?  Because we’re human.  We have emotions, hopes, dreams.  We put ourselves at risk emotionally by daring to hope in the face of adversity or unfavorable statistics.  When the risk pays off, the elation is something you will savor for the rest of your life.  But when you lose, well, that’s also something you remember forever.

It is part of the human condition for these emotional peaks and troughs to affect your sleep.  As such, everybody is susceptible to at least some occasional transient insomnia.  Usually the insomnia burns off as its trigger fades into the background of your life.  However, in some cases the sleeping problem can persist as dysregulation of bedtime schedules and mounting frustration over the insomnia set in and worsen.  It’s at this point that people start to schedule appointments to see guys like me.

Bottom line here:  anything you think about that is of emotional importance–whether good or bad–can cause at least transient insomnia.  Just ask Shocker and Bulldog fans.

I’m hoping that I won’t be going to bed tonight like the Zags did last night.  KU is playing Roy Williams and his Tarheels.  MTXE, baby, and Rock Chalk Jayhawk!