You’ve heard of falling asleep at the wheel. Drowsiness can be a significant hazard for truck drivers. But so can sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a breathing-related, sleep disorder. It causes short interruptions or stoppages of breathing during sleep. These pauses in breathing can last 10 seconds or more and can occur up to 400 times a night. Sleep apnea is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that often goes unrecognized and undiagnosed.
How Can Sleep Apnea Affect a Semi Driver when He or She is on the Road?
Since sleep apnea impacts a semi driver’s sleep, it also affects his or her daytime alertness and performance. Untreated sleep apnea can make it hard for the driver of an 18-wheeler to stay awake, focus on the road, and react quickly while driving.
In general, studies show that those drivers with untreated sleep apnea have an increased risk of being involved in a fatigue-related motor vehicle crash.
Many truck drivers with sleep apnea say that they never fall asleep while driving. That may be true, but remember, a truck driver doesn’t have to fall asleep to have a crash. A tractor-trailer driver just has to be inattentive or less alert — and with untreated sleep apnea, he or she isn’t as on top of the situation as they should be. An experienced Atlanta truck accident attorney knows what documents to ask for and how to prove if a truck driver should not have been driving.
How Many Semi Drivers Have Sleep Apnea?
A 2020 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that nearly half of truck drivers are at risk for obstructive sleep apnea. That’s a dramatic increase from an earlier study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations. That research found that almost a third (28%) of commercial truck drivers had mild to severe sleep apnea.
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study used the so-called “STOP-Bang” sleep apnea screening tool. This tool gauges an individual’s snoring, tiredness, observed apneas, hypertension, body mass index (BMI), age, neck circumference, and gender to determine their risk factor for sleep apnea. The researchers analyzed data collected from a previous study of just over 20,000 truck drivers, along with medical data from these drivers’ medical exams.
In the first study, only 6.4% of the drivers were marked as potentially having obstructive sleep apnea, while 86% showed no signs of OSA. The remaining drivers had already been diagnosed with OSA.
Applying the STOP-Bang assessment identified about 8,500 drivers from that pool as “OSA Potential” who were formerly “No OSA” or identified as not having enough data to make an OSA determination. These drivers, combined with the 879 drivers already included in the “OSA Potential” group totaled 9,382 drivers potentially having obstructive sleep apnea, or nearly half (46.9%) of the total driver pool in the study. These drivers would then require a sleep study to determine an obstructive sleep apnea diagnosis.
According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study, 48.19% of surveyed drivers had no sleep apnea after applying the STOP-Bang assessment, while 3.6% had diagnosed and treated OSA.
Are Truckers Currently Tested for Sleep Apnea?
No. Under current regulations, there’s no requirements for truck drivers to be tested for obstructive sleep apnea. There’s just one question on medical exams that asks if a driver has any “sleep disorders, pauses in breathing while asleep, daytime sleepiness or loud snoring.” But researchers say that this relies on big rig drivers being open and honest when answering the question.
In they do answer truthfully, the disqualifying level of sleep apnea is moderate to severe, which interferes with safe driving. The medical examiner must qualify and determine a driver’s medical fitness for duty.
Medical Conditions Like Sleep Apnea Can Lead to Accidents
While semi drivers must pass a physical examination, and those with disqualifying conditions should not be on the road, there’s no automatic disqualification for sleep apnea. In some cases, a driver’s medical condition is ignored or isn’t monitored by his or her employer, the trucking company, and this may be a factor in a serious accident.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a semi accident, you should work with an experienced Atlanta truck accident attorney. We understand state and federal commercial carrier laws and have represented hundreds of auto drivers and motorcyclists who have been hurt because of the negligence of a truck driver. We will investigate the driver’s condition to determine if he or she had a serious health issue that contributed to your accident.
If you want to ask our Atlanta personal injury law firm any questions, feel free to call us or email us for free! Our Atlanta truck accident lawyers free legal consultations.