With all the attention paid to cell phone use and the rise in distracted driving, it is important to keep sight of a problem that has been around since cars were invented-driver fatigue. After several high profile truck accidents cited sleep apnea as playing a role in the accident, some industry groups took notice. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration made a recommendation in 2008 that all truck drivers undergo screening for sleep apnea. Despite that recommendation, the Department of Transportation had taken no action to require truck drivers to be tested for sleep apnea or for sufferers to be treated before they can resume driving.
As our previous post mentioned, the FMCSA is currently considering changing the rules regarding truck drivers’ off time. They hope to reduce driver fatigue accidents by requiring two midnight to 6 a.m. stretches in the 34 hours of time off truckers must take after a work week. That action will require countless more truck drivers to cover the same routes and will cost the trucking industry more than $1 billion. If the FMCSA is committed to reducing driver fatigue, it should continue pushing for greater regulation of drivers and sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea, a condition that prevents its victims from getting deep or restful sleep, affects a significant number of truck drivers. The condition has been connected to obesity, which is a common health problem among truckers. The condition is treatable and would not force any drivers with the condition to change careers. One company, Schneider Trucking, decided to screen its employees for sleep apnea and found more than two thousand of its drivers suffered from the condition.
Given the hazard posed by tired truck drivers and the frequency with which they suffer from sleep apnea, it seems a logical choice to regulate the condition. The FMCSA has demonstrated that driver fatigue is an issue that requires their attention. They should demonstrate their commitment to safety again by making sure that drivers with sleep apnea are treated before they endanger themselves and their fellow motorists by driving while exhausted.
Source: WCNC-TV, Inc, “Sleeping disorder puts drivers at risk,” Stuart Watson, 7 November 2011