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The Danger of Untreated Sleep Apnea in Truck Drivers

By: Allan M. Siegel

New research from the University of Minnesota Morris indicates that truck drivers who fail to maintain their sleep apnea treatments are five times more likely to be involved in a serious truck accident. The study is the largest analysis to date of crash risk among truck drivers with a breathing disorder, and comes as an important part of a debate over whether commercial drivers should be required to undergo screenings for sleep apnea.

Individuals with sleep apnea temporarily stop breathing while they are asleep, disrupting normal patterns of rest and leading to daytime fatigue. While drowsy driving can affect anyone, it is especially troubling for the truck industry since massive trailers can weigh up to 80,000 pounds each.

DC Truck Accident Attorney

The study’s main findings included:

  • Drivers who consistently followed their sleep apnea treatment plan had crash rates over 100,000 road miles similar to the comparison group of drivers who passed an apnea screening and were unlikely to have the disorder.
  • Truck drivers with the condition who did not follow through with their treatments were found to have a much higher crash risk than drivers who did.
  • Out of 1,000 drivers tested, drivers in the control group had about 14 preventable accidents, while the nonadherent group had 70. According to the data, ‘accidents’ were crashes serious enough that a vehicle needed to be towed, someone required immediate medical attention, or someone was killed.

FMCSA Fights to Change Sleep Apnea Testing Rules

Crash data from 2004 to 2013 reveals that sleepy truck drivers have caused as many as 8,900 deaths during that time period. It is estimated that approximately 28 percent of commercial truck drivers have obstructive sleep apnea.

While the evidence is clear, not everyone is on board with changing regulations. The trucking industry is resistant to implementing new standards regarding sleep apnea testing due to its high costs. This year, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched its rulemaking process on sleep apnea standards for commercial drivers and train operators. Hopefully, this new research will shape the discussion.

For more information on trucking accidents and to schedule a free legal consultation with a Washington, DC truck accident lawyer, please contact Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata, Siegel, P.C. today.