Untreated Sleep Apnea in Truckers Leads to a 5-fold Increase in Crashes
Sleep apnea affects more than a quarter of all commercial truck drivers
Driving a large commercial truck is a difficult job. The vehicles are massive, typically weighing 80,000 pounds and on a highway like Interstate 70 or 65 passing through Indianapolis, they may be traveling at 55 to 65 miles per hour.
Should a driver fail to recognize that traffic is slowing because of congestion or that there is a lane shift due to ever-present road construction, motorists ahead of that truck are at risk for potentially catastrophic damage or injuries. The size and weight differential between a fully loaded semi-truck and any other vehicle could mean devastating consequences for the occupants of those other vehicles.
Drowsy driving or highway hypnosis?
Interstate highways, with their constant speeds, gentle curves and minimal grades both help and hinder drivers, as the lack of changing stimulus can lead to minds wandering and induce an almost trance-like state, sometimes called highway hypnosis.
For truckers, who may drive hundreds of miles in a day, this can be made worse by Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) which causes them to have poor quality sleep and can greatly increase their risk of fatigue and drowsiness while driving.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea results from the relaxation of throat muscles while sleeping, causing a momentary breathing stoppage. This then causes you to wake for a short period, interrupting restorative deep sleep and leading to a feeling of fatigue and exhaustion during the day. This condition is made worse by being overweight and occurs often in persons who are middle-aged.
Given that truck drivers necessarily spend long sedentary periods in their trucks and may lack ready access to healthy food and regular exercise, many drivers potentially are at risk of this condition.
OSA leads to five times the risk of a crash
OSA among truck drivers poses a genuine risk to all motorists, as a recent study found that truck drivers who suffer from OSA and do not properly treat the condition, are five times more likely to be involved in a serious, preventable crash.
The study looked at 1,600 drivers who had been diagnosed with this condition and a control group that was picked as being unlikely to have the condition. The drivers with OSA were given an air pump and mask to wear when sleeping, which prevents the symptoms by keeping their airways open.
The use of the devices was monitored and drivers who failed to use the equipment showed the very significant increase in preventable crashes. Preventable crashes are those which the driver, had he or she been fully alert, would have been able to avoid.
Fatigued truck drivers can cause devastating crashes
Driver fatigue can be deadly. When drivers nod off behind the wheel, the resulting behavior can be similar to that of an intoxicated driver. They may doze off, then suddenly wake as their wheels cross the rumble strip, which can lead to an abrupt attempt to get back in the lane and lead to an overcorrection.
The truck may run off the road and strike a utility pole, highway sign or tree, or run down an embankment, catastrophically rolling over. Or it could cross the median and strike oncoming traffic.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is considering whether it should create specific regulations that that would mandate screening and treatment for commercial drivers. However, this may be a slow process, as Congress has passed legislation that may make any rulemaking difficult.
Truck drivers may not want to admit to suffering from OSA out of fear of losing their jobs. However, untreated OSA is dangerous and the failure to seek treatment is negligence that can lead to the driver and others losing more than a job. While the driver may lose their life, the frightening statistic of large truck crashes is that in 97 percent of the crashes with other vehicles, the driver and passengers of those other vehicles die.
Because trucking companies and their insurers often have investigatory teams working within hours on crashes involving their trucks, you need the support and guidance of an experienced truck accident attorney.
If you have been involved in a crash with a truck, contact Steve Crell. He can protect your interests, has handled cases involving truck crashes, and understands the methods trucking companies use to minimize their payouts. He will work to ensure you obtain the compensation you need and are not led to accept an inadequate settlement.