Effect of sleep deprivation on driving safety in housestaff
Sleep deprivation is known to affect driving safety. Housestaff (HS) are routinely sleep-deprived when on call. We hypothesized that this would affect their driving. We therefore administered questionnaires regarding driving to 70 pediatric HS, who were on call every fourth night, and to 85 faculty members (FAC), who were rarely disturbed at night. HS were questioned about events during their residency, and FAC were questioned about events during the preceding three years. There was an 87% response rate for each group. HS slept 2.7 +/- 0.9 (SD) hours when on call vs 7.2 +/- 0.8 hours when not on call (p < 0.001). 44% of HS had fallen asleep when stopped at a light, vs 12.5% FAC (p < 0.001). 23% of HS had fallen asleep while driving vs. 8% FAC (ns). A total of 49% of HS had fallen asleep at the wheel; 90% of these events occurred post-call. In contrast, only 13% of FAC had fallen asleep at the wheel (p < 0.001). HS had received a total of 25 traffic citations for moving violations vs. 15 for FAC and were involved in 20 motor vehicle accidents vs. 11 for FAC. One traffic citation clearly resulted from HS falling asleep at the wheel vs. none for FAC. We conclude that HS frequently fall asleep when driving post-call. We speculate that current HS work schedules may place some HS at risk for injury to themselves and others. Further study, using prospectively objective measures is indicated.