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Are Truck Drivers with Health and Medical Issues More Likely to Get into Accidents?

At some level, most people would likely recognize that the greater number of potential issues and impairments a driver must contend with, the greater the risk for an accident or other highway incident.  This is the basic idea behind health and fitness screenings required to obtain a commercial motor vehicle driver. Essentially, candidates submit to medical screening and testing to detect potentially serious conditions. Depending on the nature of the condition and its impacts, a single serious medical or health condition can disqualify a driver from operating a large truck. However, in at least some cases, the condition or conditions may be able to be controlled through lifestyle changes, medication, or other medical strategies.

Thus, it is not always the raw number of medical or health conditions a driver faces, but the severity and impacts those conditions have on his or her ability to maintain focus and attention and operate a commercial motor vehicle. That said, as the number of moderate to severe conditions increases, the likelihood that they may produce significant impacts increases.

Poor Health Evidenced through Certain Factors and Conditions Means an Increased Risk of Sleep Apnea

One of the more serious health issue a truck driver can have is sleep apnea. While sleep apnea can vary in severity, moderate to severe sleep apnea can result in a loss of consciousness without the driver ever realizing that he or she has fallen asleep. This is because sleep apnea causes obstructions in a person’s airways that can lead to a momentary inability to breathe. This difficulty in breathing leads to hundreds or thousands of micro-awakenings through the night. These micro-awakenings prevent the individual from ever falling into a deep sleep. As such, these individuals often feel exhausted regardless of how many hours they sleep.

The likelihood that any individual will develop sleep apnea certainly does have a genetic component. However, poor health can also increase the likelihood that a person develops sleep apnea. Factors evidencing poor health that represent sleep apnea risk factors are:

  • Small airways – Individuals who were born with smaller than average airways are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea and related conditions. Likewise, individuals who have suffered injuries to their skull land nasal cavities may also suffer from narrowed airways.
  • Weight – Individuals who are overweight face an increased risk of sleep apnea. When overweight, fat deposits around the neck and upper airways can press down and constrict passages.
  • High blood pressure – Individuals with hypertension are also more likely to develop a condition like sleep apnea.
  • Smoking – Use of cigarettes, cigars, or any type of smoking also contributes to the narrowing of airways and the development of sleep apnea. Any other reason contributing to regular or chronic nasal congestion also increases the risk of developing sleep apnea.
  • Diabetes – A sedentary lifestyle accompanied by a high-sugar diet may increase the likelihood of developing diabetes. In turn, the presence of diabetes is associated with sleep apnea.

One can probably see from this list of health factors that, in isolation, health problems like being overweight, using tobacco products, or having high blood pressure might not have a major impact on a person’s ability to drive. However, as minor health issues accumulate, it becomes far more likely that the individual minor issues will contribute to causing a more serious condition that does result in more significant limitations and health impacts.

Study Says Truckers’ Poor Health Contributes to Highway Accidents

A recent study conducted at the University of Utah School of Medicine found that as a truck driver’s number of medical issues increased, so did the driver’s risk of experiencing a trucking accident. In fact, the study found that drivers who suffered from three or more medical conditions were, on average, four times more likely to suffer an accident. The study also found that after crossing the three condition threshold, even conditions that would otherwise be considered relatively minor could substantially increase accident risk.

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Unfortunately, the study also seemed to find that medical issues are especially prevalent in the trucking industry. Through the analysis of approximately 50,000 trucker medical reports, the researchers found that just over one-third of drivers suffer from at least one of the following conditions: heart disease, lower back pain, and diabetes. These conditions are linked to poor driving performance. As the number of medical issues accompanying these conditions increase, the likelihood for permanent or temporary serious impairments to one’s driving ability increases.

Hurt In a Trucking Accident?

If you suffered a serious injury due to an unsafe truck driver, you may be able to obtain compensation for your injuries and other  losses. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, please call the lawyers of Reiff Law Firm’s The Truck Accident Team at (215) 709-6940 today.

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