Commercial trucking is big business, and it isn’t slowing down any time soon. While we’ve all had close calls with tractor-trailers, thousands of others weren’t as lucky to avoid a crash. Each year over 100,000 injuries and 5,000 fatalities involve commercial motor vehicles. Accident investigation of those wrecks has revealed that more than 50% of these accidents were fatigue-related.
Recent health data show that approximately 30% of all men and 20% of women suffer from some degree of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Our laws and regulations require screening of commercial truck drivers for drug-use, investigation into their driving history and disclosure of medical conditions. With 50% of commercial vehicle accidents classified as “fatigue-related,” it is irresponsible not to tighten OSA screening for truckers.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is the leading cause of daytime drowsiness and often goes undiagnosed. A common sleeping disorder in which the breathing is interrupted numerous times an hour, sleep apnea results in a poor quality of sleep. The breathing interruptions associated with sleep apnea may occur up to 30 times an hour and last from a few seconds to minutes in duration.
There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea. OSA is caused by a physical obstruction or collapse in the airway and is the most common. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send the correct signals to the body and is most often caused by medication or an underlying medical condition.
Time to Wake-Up
With the potential hazards and health concerns associated with sleep apnea (including increased risk of heart failure, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes), the disorder needs to be a larger part of our health discussion as individuals, families and when it comes to highway safety.
There was a 442% increase in doctor visits for which a diagnosis of sleep apnea was made between 1999 (1.1 million patients) and 2010 (5.8 million patients).
Researchers have shown that workers with sleep apnea are twice as likely to sustain on-the-job injuries as workers without sleep apnea. Now consider that individuals with sleep apnea are 2.5 times more likely to be the driver in a motor vehicle accident.
Sleep Apnea & Truck Drivers
“OSA has a high prevalence among commercial motor vehicle operators, and it is known to lead to fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) and to increase the risk of motor vehicle crashes,” as reported by the National Institutes of Health.
When you’re hauling a fully loaded tractor-trailer, which can weigh to up 80,000 pounds, on public highways, oftentimes at speeds in excess of 55 mph, you need to be as highly functional as possible.
We’ve written about truckers and drug use, drinking and driving, and distracted truck driving. While each of those serious concerns reflect choices and behavior of the trucker, sleep apnea isn’t a choice – it’s a medical condition. However, it’s one that doesn’t just pose health risks to the driver, but to all others on the road.
Truck Industry Asleep at the Wheel
The owners, operators, and customers of the trucking industry all have a stake in the safety of truck drivers and their cargo. So, how has the industry responded to the growing concern of truckers and sleep apnea — particularly in consideration of the fact that 20-30% of the 3.5 million commercial truckers in the U.S. might have sleep apnea and the majority of those drivers are undiagnosed?
Truck companies are in a unique position to help prevent potentially thousands of accidents a year simply by implementing tighter sleep apnea screening procedures for drivers.
Currently, the trucking industry relies on subjective questionnaires that ask the drivers to self-report on sleep apnea risk factors. How reliable is this data if you consider that the driver’s employment may have been at stake when answering the questions? Then consider that most cases of sleep apnea are undiagnosed because the individual doesn’t know they suffer from the disorder – how are drivers to self-report what they don’t know?
There are some risk factors that can be identified ahead of time (e.g., family history, medical conditions, BMI, neck size) that should prompt trucking companies to flag drivers for PSG testing. A more proactive position by the trucking industry would help keep their drivers and others safer.
The Good News
Sleep apnea, once diagnosed, is easily treatable. While some cases may require substantial weight loss or minor surgical procedures, the majority of sleep apnea patients are treated with the use of a CPAP machine or an oral device while sleeping. Isn’t it worth the cost of more reliable screening to identify a disorder so prevalent that it could save hundreds of lives every year? We certainly think so.
We Can Help
At the Mann Law Firm, we have successfully represented victims throughout Georgia who have been seriously hurt by tired drivers. We have also assisted families who have lost loved ones in drowsy driving accidents. For advice on how to proceed next, or if you have any questions about this topic, call us at (478) 742-3381 or submit our online form.