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Howard Fields, a 60-year-old truck driver, was on a trip that took him through Atlanta on Interstate 75. In the early hours of the morning, his truck slammed into another tractor-trailer. The incident ended Fields’ 21-year trucking career and cost his company half a million dollars. An investigation of the crash revealed that Fields had been asleep for almost five miles before the crash occurred.

Sleep deprivation is to blame for almost 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,550 fatalities per year in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Most sleep-related crashes are serious because a person asleep at the wheel is unable to prevent the crash from occurring. Unfortunately, sleep-related crashes frequently occur on highways, and thus at high speeds. Fatigue caused by sleep deprivation may also be responsible for up to 56 percent of crashes involving commercial truck drivers.

Sleep deprivation is a common consequence of certain lifestyles choices, including how one makes a living. Unfortunately, the nature of long-haul truck driving can contribute to sleep deprivation and fatigue. Driving late at night, driving a large number of miles, and driving for three or more hours at once are all factors that contribute to sleep deprivation. According to one study, long-haul truck drivers average little more than five hours of sleep per night.

Fortunately, there are several ways to reverse the effects of sleep deprivation. Frequent napping can help alleviate drowsiness. Caffeine is also a quick fix. Howard Fields has an idea, too. It is called the Wake Buddy.

Fields, forced into early retirement by his accident, used the time to invent a device to keep truckers safe behind the wheel. Fields was disappointed by the lack of non-chemical aides available to truckers. He developed a device, named Wake Buddy, which attaches to the steering wheel and reacts to the pressure of a driver’s hands on the wheel. If there is consistent pressure, the driver is awake. If no pressure is detected, as would happen if a driver doses off and his or her hands slip off the wheel, the Wake Buddy sounds an alarm to wake the driver. Fields hopes to have the Wake Buddy available to the public soon.

Sleep deprivation and driving is a dangerous combination; in the unfortunate event that you are injured in an accident with a tractor-trailer or involving a large truck, contact a personal injury attorney in your area.