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Trucking is a dangerous job, but maybe not for the reasons you think

In mid-October, a multi-vehicle accident closed a stretch of Interstate 55 south of Springfield for several hours, tying up traffic for miles. While workers were clearing the site, another accident occurred. In all, 12 vehicles were involved, including three tractor-trailers, and six people were injured. Fortunately, none of the injuries was life-threatening.

The whole thing started with a tractor-trailer, the Register reported. The semi triggered a chain reaction when it rear-ended a van. At the time of the crash, there was no mention of whether the truck driver was speeding or distracted or overtired. It appears that neither the Journal-Register nor any other media outlet has followed up on the story.

Chances are good that fatigue or cellphone use was a factor in the initial truck accident, according to a new study from the University of Utah's Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. Those findings are not surprising. The researchers were surprised, however, to discover that high pulse pressure, or hypertension, has also been a leading risk factor in truck crashes.

The Mayo Clinic's website explains that high pulse pressure is the difference between the systolic pressure, the top number in a blood pressure reading, and the diastolic pressure, or bottom number. Researchers believe that higher pulse pressure is a sign or predictor of heart problems, just as high blood pressure (hypertension) is.

A truck driver's job has some hypertension risk factors built in: long hours, heavy lifting, anxiety and lack of physical activity. This study found that an astonishing 24 percent of truck drivers had undiagnosed (and, so, untreated) high blood pressure. Truck drivers had a higher rate of obesity than the general population, too: 62 percent of drivers in the study were obese, while 35 percent of the general population is.

The study, of course, does not offer recommendations for making trucking a healthier occupation, one posing fewer risks to the drivers and the people that share the roads with them. Regulators and safety advocates have pushed for mandatory breaks and shorter driving days in an effort to reduce driver fatigue. Sleep is a priority, but other lifestyle factors, like diet and exercise, may be the backseat drivers in the fight for fewer truck accidents.

Source: ABC News 4, "Truckers' fatigue, cellphones boost their crash risk," Nov. 1, 2015

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