Truck Drivers With Sleep Apnea are at Higher Risk of Causing Accidents.

Sleep apnea is a condition that deprives a person of deep and sufficient sleep, often leaving the person tired and drowsy during the day. If a commercial truck driver has sleep apnea but is not being properly treated, the chances of the driver causing an accident is much higher than a driver without the condition. By one estimate, more than a quarter of truck drivers have sleep apnea.

Truck drivers suffering obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) who fail to comply with treatment have a rate of preventable crashes five times higher than that of truckers without the condition, according to a study by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Morris, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The findings were released in March in the journal Sleep. Researchers studied the results of the first large-scale employer program to screen, diagnose and monitor OSA treatment adherence in the U.S. trucking industry.

There are three types of sleep apnea. OSA is the most common, according to the Merck Manual.

  • Sleep apnea occurs when breathing repeatedly stops long enough to disrupt sleep, often temporarily decreasing the amount of oxygen going into the body and increasing carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • Those with the condition are often very sleepy during the day, and when they sleep they may snore loudly, have episodes of gasping or choking, pause their breathing and suddenly awake with a snort.
  • OSA has been linked to lower attention, working memory, vigilance and executive functioning.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure, oral appliances and surgery can treat sleep apnea.

OSA can occur in men and women of any age, but there are factors that put a person at a higher risk of the condition:

  • A family history of OSA
  • A small upper airway
  • Being overweight
  • A recessed chin, small jaw or a large overbite
  • A large neck size (17 inches or more for men, 16 inches or more for women)
  • Smoking and alcohol use
  • Being 40 years of age or older.

Researchers state commercial truck drivers need to be regularly screened for sleep apnea and that, if found, treatment be mandatory if they want to continue driving. Stefanos Kales, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the above-mentioned study states that taking these steps would reduce large truck and bus accidents and prevent deaths and injuries among truck drivers and the public.

According to Kales:

  • Up to 20% of all large truck crashes are due to drowsy or fatigued driving.
  • OSA is the most common cause of excessive daytime sleepiness or fatigue.
  • Commercial truck drivers currently must have an examination every two years to determine their medical fitness to safely operate a vehicle.
  • There are no mandatory standards for OSA screening or diagnosis of truck drivers, in part because no large-scale studies have evaluated the crash risk of commercial drivers with OSA.

OSA can impact driving:

  • Because the quantity and quality of sleep is reduced, daytime alertness and performance are also reduced.
  • Untreated sleep apnea can make it difficult for a truck driver to stay awake, focus their vision and quickly react while driving.

Researchers analyzed the results of an OSA screening, diagnosis and treatment program implemented by a major trucking firm.

  • They compared a control group of 2,016 drivers not likely to have OSA with 1,613 drivers with OSA.
  • For those with the condition, 682 fully complied with the use of pressurized air machines, 571 partially adhered to the treatment and 360 didn’t use the machine at all.
  • Researchers looked at data on serious preventable crashes where the driver was at fault.
  • Drivers with OSA who failed to follow treatment had a rate of preventable crashes five times greater than the control group which had similar driving experience.
  • Drivers with OSA who fully complied with treatment had the same crash rate as the control group of those not likely to have OSA.

Kales states the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is considering mandating sleep apnea screening for truck drivers and requiring treatment for those with a positive diagnosis, but this has been debated for more than ten years without action being taken. Kales said the findings may push the federal government to mandate sleep apnea screening for commercial truck drivers.

Currently FMCSA regulations do not specifically address sleep apnea.

  • They state a person with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any condition likely to interfere with their ability to drive safely cannot be medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.
  • Once successfully treated, a driver may regain a “medically-qualified-to-drive” status.

On its website, FMCSA states it’s “critical” that truck drivers diagnosed with sleep apnea “fully use the treatment provided by their doctor” and shouldn’t drive if they are not being treated.

A study by University of Pennsylvania researchers, sponsored by the FMCSA and the American Trucking Association, found that 28% of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea, according to the FMCSA, so there are potentially many truck drivers on Kentucky roads with untreated OSA, posing a threat to themselves and others.

Driver fatigue, inattentiveness and falling asleep while driving are some of the reasons big rigs have big wrecks. Untreated OSA may be one reason why these wrecks occur. If you have been injured or a loved one has been injured or killed in a truck accident involving a sleepy or fatigued driver, you need an experienced Kentucky truck accident lawyer like Julie Butcher who knows this area of the law and has achieved favorable results for many injured victims.

For free resources and answers to questions concerning your Kentucky truck accident, contact attorney Julie Butcher online or at 1-866-77-JULIE.