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Sleep Apnea – A Hidden Cause in Trucking Accidents

Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. These pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. This disorder is usually is a chronic condition that disrupts your sleep and results in poor sleep quality that makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of excessive daytime sleepiness. Most people don’t know they have sleep apnea and it difficult for doctors to diagnose this condition during routine office visits.

The Hidden Dangers of Sleep Apnea

This makes sleep apnea a potentially dangerous condition for drivers, especially those who drive commercial motor vehicles (CMV). According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 28 percent of CMV drivers have varying degrees of sleep apnea. While this may not be too different from percentages among the rest of the population, it is more dangerous since these drivers spend significantly more time on the road than the average driver and with more consecutive behind the wheel.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. However, these figures may be the tip of the iceberg, since currently, it is difficult to attribute crashes to sleepiness. Without the driver acknowledging that he or she fell asleep, law enforcement doesn’t record the crash as fatigue-related.

This seems to be a growing problem in the trucking industry. The daytime effects of sleep apnea can cause drivers to fall asleep in seconds. One study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCAS), found that those drivers with sleep apnea performed worse than drivers with blood alcohol content measurements that would have made them legally drunk.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has tried to reduce driver fatigue by limiting hours of service to 11 hours each day and some people have argued for a decrease to 10 hours each day to allow for rest. However, this doesn’t seem to be an effective solution for those suffering from sleep apnea. For those who suffer from this disorder, they can “sleep” through an eight hour night and wake up completely exhausted and completely unaware of their body’s nighttime activities.

Some states have implemented regulations that require CMV drivers to obtain a DOT medical certificate to prove that they are healthy enough to drive for the long hours required. This might be the best way to prevent accidents and keep CMV drivers and everyone else on the road safe.


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