Sleep Apnea and Truck Drivers: A Deadly Combination
Semi truck accidents are more likely to be fatal than other motor vehicle crashes. In a collision with a semi, passenger vehicles don’t stand a chance. Anyone inside that passenger vehicle is likely to suffer serious injury or death. Any factor that contributes to commercial truck accidents should be scrutinized to reduce the chances of a traffic fatality.
The NTSB’s Focus on Fatigue
Fatigued truck drivers were responsible for an estimated 8,900 traffic fatalities from 2004 to 2013. So when the National Transportation Safety Board released its top priorities for safety advocacy in 2016, reducing fatigue-related accidents was first on the list.
The NTSB’s recommendations included a call for improved education about the medical conditions that can lead to fatigue. One of those medical conditions is sleep apnea, and it is a known problem in the trucking industry. The NTSB called out the need for guidance from regulators about identifying and treating obstructive sleep apnea for workers in safety-critical jobs.
What Sleep Apnea Is & Why You Should Care
Sleep apnea is a serious, but common medical disorder. The people who suffer from sleep apnea experience interruptions in their breathing while they sleep. These interruptions cause the person to move out of deep sleep into lighter sleep, or even to wake up completely. A person can suffer dozens of these interruptions each hour, causing them to get insufficient sleep.
Left untreated, sleep apnea leads to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. It also greatly increases the likelihood of suffering a fatigue-related accident.
Untreated Sleep Apnea & Truck Accidents
New research conducted by the University of Minnesota—Morris looked at the connection between sleep apnea and truck accidents. The study analyzed the driving records of truck drivers who have been diagnosed with the condition and compared them to the driving records of truckers who passed the screening test. Among the truck drivers who followed their sleep apnea treatment plans, crash rates were comparable to those without the condition. The drivers who did not follow their treatment plans suffered crash rates five times higher than non-sufferers.
The scope of the problem is massive. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sponsored a study to determine how prevalent sleep apnea was among commercial truck drivers. The study found that 28 percent of drivers had mild to severe sleep apnea.
The FMCSA responded to these findings by releasing an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking concerning the testing and treatment of sleep apnea last December. Since then, debate has raged about whether truck drivers should be subjected to mandatory screening, and under what conditions.
Fatigue-Related Accidents Are Preventable
Tired drivers are a threat to the safety of everyone on the road. Ignoring a condition like sleep apnea leads to preventable accidents. The limits placed on driving hours for commercial truckers are ineffective if the drivers are fatigued before they step into the cab. The health and fitness of truck drivers is an important component in maintaining safe roads. As such, it is important for regulators to provide an effective framework to ensure that drivers with sleep apnea receive proper treatment, or keep off the roads.
Sources: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/03/21/study-shows-untreated-truckers-apnea-dangerous (MPR News 3/21/16); http://www.landlinemag.com/Story.aspx?StoryID=30276#.VvS3JeIrKCg (Landline Magazine, 12/16/15); http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sleepapnea (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)