Sleep Apnea Can Make Truck Drivers Dangerous

March 9th, 2016 by Attorney Julie Butcher

A fatigued, distracted driver operating an 80,000-pound vehicle on Kentucky roads can be a menace to other drivers and pedestrians. While there are federal regulations requiring drivers to take time off after a certain amount of driving to get some sleep, they can’t guarantee the quality of sleep a driver will get. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition that causes frequent interruptions of sleep, leaving truck drivers with OSA constantly tired.

The federal Department of Transportation may have started the process to begin regulation in the area of commercial truck drivers who suffer from OSA, according to Heavy Duty Trucking. The agency made a data collection request to the White House Office of Management and Budget in December concerning how many truck drivers and other transportation workers have the condition and the possible impact of a future OSA-related regulation.

The request was made jointly by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA, which oversees commercial trucking) and the Federal Railroad Administration (which is involved with railroad safety). A law passed in 2013 stated the FMCSA couldn’t issue any OSA-related regulations until it conducted a study of how prevalent it is among commercial drivers, what could be done about the problem and the costs and benefits of such a proposed regulation.

About 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder causing breathing during sleep to repeatedly stop and start, reports the Mayo Clinic. OSA is the most common kind of sleep apnea, which is caused by throat muscles irregularly relaxing and blocking the airway during sleep. Anyone can develop the condition, though it’s most common among middle-aged and older adults and those who are overweight.

Signs and symptoms of OSA include:

  • Excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Loud snoring
  • Cessation of breathing during sleep
  • Sudden waking from sleep, followed by shortness of breath
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood changes

The condition may lead to heart damage and high blood pressure. The Mayo Clinic recommends that a person see a physician if he or she suffers from excessive daytime drowsiness, which could result in falling asleep while working or driving a vehicle.

A study by University of Pennsylvania, paid for by the FMCSA and the American Trucking Association, estimated that 28% percent of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1999 concluded, “There is a strong association between sleep apnea…and the risk of traffic accidents.” The NBC affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina, WCNC, produced a series of stories on the dangers of sleep apnea among truck drivers and the trucking industry’s reluctance to address it.

Truckers may be resistant to mandatory sleep testing because it’s expensive (about $3,000) and a common tool used to treat the condition is not effective for many people, according to Motherboard. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device can be uncomfortable and doesn’t guarantee good sleep.

The Julie Butcher Law Office has extensive experience handling the claims of Kentuckians injured in commercial motor vehicle accidents. Call us at 859-233-3641 or fill out our contact form so we can talk about the circumstances of your case and how we might help your family obtain justice if a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel.