A study commissioned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration revealed “that almost one-third (28 percent) of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea.” After reporting this on its webpage devoted to discussing the risks of operating a tractor-trailer, tour bus or other large vehicle while suffering from the condition that makes getting adequate, restorative rest, the FMCSA further notes that its “regulations do not specifically address sleep apnea.”

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The most-common consequence of uncontrolled sleep apnea is daytime fatigue. This is also the most dangerous consequence of sleep apnea for commercial truck and bus drivers.

Drivers who struggle to stay awake behind the wheel become easily distracted, find it difficult to respond quickly and appropriately to sudden changes in traffic flow or road conditions, and drift out of their lanes. These negligent behaviors create serious risks for injuries and deaths for the fatigued drivers and for everyone else on the highway.

In fact, research reported by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine indicates that “patients with sleep apnea were nearly 2.5 times more likely to be the driver in a motor vehicle accident, compared with a control group of other drivers in the general population.” The primary risk factors were “severe excessive daytime sleepiness, a short sleep duration of 5 hours or less, and use of sleeping pills.”

Federal regulations and rules enforced by the Virginia Department of Transportation limit on-duty hours for commercial drivers and require extended rest periods between shifts. Additionally, maintaining a CDL requires regularly passing a health exam. Suffering from sleep apnea, however, does not disqualify a person from working as a commercial driver.

Trucking companies and tour bus operators can act on their own, of course. One national transportation corporation that asked each of its driver who was diagnosed with sleep apnea to start treatment witnessed truck accidents and crash-related costs decrease dramatically. As Virginia personal injury and wrongful death attorneys who regularly advise and represent victims of collisions caused by fatigued truck drivers, we encourage more companies to get proactive about addressing sleep apnea.

EJL