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Let us say that you were driving to a dentist appointment at 3 p.m. on a clear, sunny afternoon when the 18-wheeler in the next lane veered over and side-swiped your SUV.

Fortunately, you were not severely injured. The trucker stopped to check on you and muttered something about circadian rhythm. What was she talking about?

What it means

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the number of U.S. traffic fatalities involving large trucks rose 3% from 4,074 in 2015 to 4,213 in 2016. Drowsiness played a role in some of these crashes, and drowsiness often occurs when there is a lull in the circadian rhythm. In basic terms, this refers to the wake-sleep cycle our bodies go through every day and every night. It is all about the internal clock that controls our level of alertness. Humans are naturally drowsy between the hours of 12 and 6 a.m. and again between 2 and 4 p.m. The FMCSA cautions truck drivers about drowsiness because they spend long hours on the road and can easily succumb to the lull in the wake-sleep cycle. At such times, drowsiness can be strong, which may have a detrimental effect on driving performance.

A study on alertness

The FMCSA conducted a study about sleep inertia, which relates to the topic of drowsiness. The results show that time of day, not time on task, has more of an impact on overall driver alertness. The thinking is that sleep inertia, which refers to cognitive functioning, vigilance, reaction time and the ability to resist drowsiness, is more prevalent just after waking from sleep. This may be an especially dangerous time for truckers who take their rest in a sleeper berth and begin to drive soon after waking.

Next steps

If you have ever had jet lag, you likely experienced circadian rhythm disorder and can better understand what the driver was talking about when she stopped to check on you. Even if your injuries were minor, you should expect financial compensation due to driver negligence. Explore your legal options to learn more about the next steps following your truck-SUV accident.