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Research Data Shows Truckers With Untreated Sleep Apnea are 4 to 5 Times More Likely to Crash

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is currently considering new rules regarding sleep apnea that will help medical providers better assess the risk and screen out more drivers with the condition. While U.S. truck drivers must undergo medical fitness screening every two years, the FMCSA does not currently require sleep apnea screening. It appears that the need for these regulations and rules may be even more pressing than originally believed due to new revelations regarding the accident risk presented by drivers with untreated sleep apnea.

While the condition can develop in any person, older individuals, people with sedentary lifestyles, and people who are significantly overweight are at the greatest risk of developing the condition. While the condition can typically be successfully treated, many people with mild to moderate sleep apnea are unaware of the presence of the condition or that their  sleep is interrupted and, therefore, less refreshing. When the condition is undiagnosed and untreated, it presents the greatest chance for a medical event that results in a trucking accident and other problems.

How Were the Study Results Obtained?

Researchers including coauthor Dr. Stefanos N. Kales, of Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, made use of driver data from the large trucking firm Schneider, Inc. Schneider implemented driver questionnaires in 2006 and then later independently introduced sleep testing for drivers. The study identified that the accident risk for commercial drivers with sleep apnea greatly exceeds the risk for drivers without the condition or who have successfully treated the condition.

The researchers analyzed data provided by more than 3500 truck drivers. Roughly 2,000 drivers were known to have the condition while about 1,600 drivers were unlikely to be affected by sleep apnea and obstructed breathing. The drivers that were identified as having sleep apnea were provided with an APAP device to treat the condition. The APAP device was equipped with a computer chip and memory to record how often the device was required to kick in.

Of the drivers with sleep apnea, drivers who fully adhered to the treatment regimen showed the lowest accident risk. While these driver’s 0.070 preventable crashed per 100,000 miles driven was greater than that of the rate for drivers without sleep apnea (0.014 per 100,000 miles driven), these rates are similar and show that drivers who have successfully controlled their sleep apnea are nearly as safe of drivers as those without the condition. While there is some difference, it is not substantially significant.

However, when compared to drivers who failed to use the APAP machines, significant differences were detected. A driver who failed to comply with treatment and controls his or her condition has an accident rate that is five times higher than a driver who complies with treatment. Since roughly 20 percent of crashes nationwide are attributed to drowsy, fatigued, or dosing drivers these findings are particularly compelling.

How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?

Sleep apnea is a condition that can be treated and controlled with the commitment and education of the affected individual. Typically sleep apnea is treated through a combination of technological tools and lifestyle changes. One important aspect of treating sleep apnea is to work on reducing the individual’s weight. Reducing or eliminating the consumption of alcohol and other depressants also plays a role in the treatment. Quitting smoking can also assist with a reduction in difficulties related to sleep apnea. Lying on one’s side rather than on one’s back can also make a difference.

Aside from lifestyle changes, the use of a CPAP or APAP machine is also essential to treating the condition. The machine is a positive airflow device and can regulate the individual’s breathing so that he or she can benefit from uninterrupted sleep rather than the brief episodes of wakefulness that most sufferers of sleep apnea experience.

In certain cases of extreme sleep apnea, surgery may be required. However, in many if not most cases, the condition can be adequately controlled through the combination of lifestyle changes and a positive airflow device.

Injury by a Dosing or Sleeping Truck driver?

Unfortunately, sleep apnea in truckers can have devastating consequences for all individuals on the roadway. The power of an uncontrolled 70,000 to 80,000-pound truck cannot be understated. When truck accidents occur with large vehicles at high speeds, the consequences are often devastating resulting in catastrophic injury or death.

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