Sleep Apnea and Truck Accidents Draw Federal Scrutiny

The Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and the Medical Review Board have teamed up to recommend mandatory testing for sleep apnea among obese truck drivers. Sleep apnea has been linked to numerous truck accidents where the driver either fell asleep or was exhausted at the time of the crash. The two committees are preparing a formal recommendation to present to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration later this year. Sleep apnea is a known-issue in the trucking industry, with several leading companies already testing their drivers to ensure that proper steps are taken.

This is not the first time the FMCSA has attempted to address the issue of sleep apnea among truck drivers. The group recommended mandatory testing for all drivers in 2008. The Department of Transportation took no action to require testing and the issue took a back seat to efforts geared towards text messaging while driving and service time restrictions. This time, the FMCSA is tying the screening to commercial truck drivers with a Body Mass Index that falls in the obese range. Studies show that sleep apnea is more commonly suffered by overweight people.

Some trucking industry representatives do not believe the screening is necessary. While they acknowledge that fatigue is a problem for truck drivers, they believe that sleep apnea is just one cause, and not the most common cause, for tired driving. One trade association representative cited the fact that drivers have little control over their schedule as a primary culprit for fatigued driving.

Sleep apnea poses a serious risk to truck drivers and all motorists. A truck driver who suffers from sleep apnea may have no idea of the risk he or she is taking when operating a big rig. Mandatory screening could help affected drivers get the medical care they need to live healthier and avoid fatigue related truck accidents. The time and expense that screening may take is certainly worth it if lives can be saved.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Sleep Apnea In Truck Drivers: Advisory Panels Recommend Screening For Condition In Obese Drivers,” by Amanda L. Chan, 19 December 2011

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