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Sleep Apnea and Commercial Truck Drivers: A Deadly Combo

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A study by the Virginia Technical Institute found that truck drivers who struggle with sleep apnea and do not follow any treatment programs significantly increase their risk of being in a serious tractor trailer accident.

When a person has sleep apnea, their breathing either pauses or goes very shallow while they sleep. This causes the person to go from a deep sleep to a light sleep. This can occur up to 30 times every hour. When a person’s sleep is continuously interrupted like this, they are being deprived of getting proper sleep and usually feel exhausted, despite having been “asleep” all night. There are more than 25 million people who suffer from sleep apnea. A common treatment for the disorder is PAP therapy. The person wears a mask which is connected to a machine that blows air through the mask while they sleep. 

The researchers collected data from more than 3200 study participants. All participants had similar work background and history and similar length of time they had been employed as truck drivers. Fifty percent of the participants had been diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Those participants who had the disorder were given PAP therapy machines they could either use at home or while they were traveling on the road. Each of the machines contained a memory chip that collected data confirming whether or not the participant was following the prescribed sleep apnea treatment. If researchers saw that the participant was not following prescribed treatment, the driver was cut from the study program.

The data was collected for 12 months. The result of that data revealed that one thousand of the participants who had sleep apnea and refused to follow doctor’s orders would be responsible for 70 preventable truck accidents. During that same time frame the participants who followed their treatment – or did not suffer from sleep apnea – would be responsible for 14 preventable truck accidents. 

Unfortunately, truck drivers are not required to report that they have been diagnosed with sleep apnea under the current federal trucking regulations. This despite studies which show that approximately one-third of tractor trailer drivers on the road suffer from the disorder. Several federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), begin taking the steps this past summer to require screening for all commercial truck drivers, as well as bus drivers and railroad workers, for sleep apnea.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a crash caused by a tractor trailer, contact a skilled Virginia truck accident attorney to see what legal recourse you may have for your pain and loss. Our Va. personal injury firm also offers a free truck accident guide that addresses such issues as federal trucking violations, commercial truck insurance, and common tactics used by commercial carriers to reduce or deny the amount of damages a truck accident victim is entitled to.
Randy E. Appleton
Virginia Beach & Norfolk Personal Injury Lawyer
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