Driver fatigue and truck accidents may be connected to sleep apnea

Last week, we wrote about driver fatigue, which is a common cause of commercial truck accidents. In order to address truck driver fatigue, regulators have passed hours-of-service rules limiting the length of driving shifts and total weekly driving hours. And after years of pushback from the trucking industry, regulators recently passed a mandate requiring electronic logging devices on most trucks. ELDs make it far more difficult for drivers to falsify records when they violate hours-of-service rules because data is collected automatically.

But, as everyone knows, there are two elements involved in healthy sleep: quantity and quality. Even if truck drivers are getting the minimum recommended number of hours each night, they are not necessarily getting deep, restful sleep. This is, in part, due to a common health problem within the trucking industry. By some estimates, up to 28 percent of commercial drivers have obstructive sleep apnea.

Those suffering from apnea experience interrupted breathing while asleep. This dramatically reduces the quality of sleep and leads to chronic fatigue during waking hours. It can be treated (not cured), and keeping up with treatments significantly reduces the risk of a fatigue-related crash.

In a recent study, researchers examined a group of 1,600 truck drivers who had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. They were divided into two groups: those that followed treatment recommendations and those that didn’t. Both groups were then compared against a control group of drivers without sleep apnea.

Drivers with apnea who followed treatment recommendations had crash rates which were similar to the control group, meaning their apnea didn’t make them more likely to be involved in an accident. But drivers who failed to follow treatment recommendations had crash rates five times higher than the control group. Hopefully, this study will at least increase awareness about the risks caused by untreated sleep apnea in truck drivers.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a truck accident, truck driver fatigue may have been the cause or a contributing factor. To learn more about your rights and options, please discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney.