The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has called for more action from the ridesharing industry to address the safety risks of drowsy driving. In a position statement, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the AASM urged both private and public stakeholders to do more to promote transport safety. 

The AASM statement comes after the ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft both initiated driver requirements to go ‘offline’ and not work for extended periods of time. For Uber, any driver who has worked a total of 12 hours must go offline for 6 straight hours; for Lyft, the drivers are required to go offline for 6 straight hours after every 14 hours of driving. 

However, many in the ridesharing industry have other daytime jobs and do their driving for additional income during ‘off’ time from a primary job. This can lead to sleep deprivation and increased safety risks, and as such the AASM finds these ‘offline’ requirements ‘insufficient’. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that drivers who usually sleep for ≤5 hours daily or have slept ≤7 hours in the past 24 hours, have significantly elevated crash rates. 

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The AASM also highlights how drivers in the ridesharing industry are considered “independent contractors” and therefore are not screened for underlying medical issues (ie, obstructive sleep apnea) which may affect alertness. To address these concerns, the AASM listed several recommendations for the industry to follow in collaboration with sleep experts:

  • Assess the profession – Quantify how many drivers have multiple jobs, how much sleep they get, and which shifts they typically work. 
  • Track the problem – How often do drivers experience drowsiness and what is the frequency of drowsy driving accidents?
  • Provide education – Drivers should have resources to understand the importance of sleep and risks involved with drowsy driving.

The statement also indicates that government plays a role, recommending that government officials mitigate risks by introducing regulations mandating rest and limited work hours. Additionally, drivers with symptoms of sleep disorders should be encouraged to be screened, and if needed, tested and treated. 

“We are dealing with a public safety issue,” said senior author Dr. Indira Gurubhagavatula, lead author of the study. “They [drivers] may be unaware of the huge risks they are taking or have the false belief that sleep is overrated. Their customers, meanwhile, usually aren’t asking themselves, ‘How alert is my driver right now?’ They aren’t even thinking about drowsy driving. This is a formula for disaster.”

According to the AAA Foundation, an estimated 328,000 annual crashes involve a drowsy driver.

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