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Study: Highway rest stops essential to preventing truck crashes

Semi-truck drivers often work long hours with few breaks. Although the hours and days they can work are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, research indicates that driver fatigue remains a serious problem.

With that in mind, a recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the University of Kentucky set out to understand the role of truck stops, weigh stations and highway rest areas in preventing fatigue-related truck crashes.

The University of Kentucky was chosen in part because that state, according to 2015 Federal Highway Administration data, is among the bottom half of all U.S. states in terms of the amount of commercial truck parking available.

The goal of the study was to determine whether the proportion of truck crashes caused by fatigue was any lower in areas where rest parking was available. Therefore, the researchers wanted to compare the number of truck accidents caused by fatigue and other factors such as distraction, and parse that data geographically.

To do that, they delved into the Kentucky State Police's Collision Report Analysis for Safer Highways (CRASH) system, which tracks highway accidents. The researchers considered commercial driver crashes occurring between 2005 and 2014 and the causes to which those accidents had been attributed.

Next, the researchers mapped the locations of nearby rest opportunities such as truck stops, hotels, weigh stations and rest areas. To do that, they used a computerized system of geographic data with listings from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

The comparison showed that the percentage of fatigue-related crashes was indeed lower when there was a place to rest within 20 miles. The study also noted that fatigue-related truck wrecks occur more often on parkways than on interstates, perhaps reflecting fewer opportunities to rest on smaller roads.

Fatigue-related crashes are also more likely than other types of crashes to occur at night and on dry pavement.

The results of the study indicate that our nation's network of highway rest areas, weigh stations, truck stops and other rest stops operate as a crucial safety feature in our transportation system.

The study, which was published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, has already led to efforts in Kentucky to increase opportunities to rest on interstates, highways and parkways. The researchers believe that safety in other states could also be improved by increasing opportunities for commercial drivers to rest.

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