Sleep Apnea, Truck Driver Fatigue & A High Risk Of Truck Accidents

Our post earlier this week focused on a widely recognized problem within the trucking industry: driver fatigue, which is also known as drowsy driving. Government regulators have been struggling for decades to enact safety reforms that would limit truck driver hours of service and mandate rest. They have also struggled to mandate the use of electronic logging devices, which would make it harder for drivers to lie about compliance with hours-of-service rules.

Unfortunately, drowsy driving is not just a product of too little time spent trying to sleep. It is also the result of poor quality sleep. Medical conditions like obstructive sleep apnea can greatly reduce the amount of restful sleep a person receives, which can leave them feeling chronically fatigued.

For those who don't know, this condition is characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep. By some estimates, up to 28 percent of commercial drivers suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Like many chronic conditions, sleep apnea can be treated, which alleviates symptoms and improves sleep quality. And aside from the health and wellness benefits, treatment also greatly improves safety. According to a recent study, truck drivers who fail to maintain treatments for their obstructive sleep apnea are five times more likely to be involved in a serious crash.

The study looked at about 1,600 truck drivers who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea. The drivers were divided into those that adhered to treatment recommendations and those that didn't. Both groups were then compared to a control group.

According to the study's author, "The people in the control group and adherent group would have about 14 serious preventable truck crashes (out of 1,000 drivers). And the drivers in the non-adherent group would have 70. That is a big difference by anyone's standard."

This study provides clear, quantifiable data that should allow federal regulators to pass safety rules related to sleep apnea screening and treatment compliance. But because the trucking industry continues to obstruct any and all regulation, what "should" happen is not necessarily what will happen.

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