Sleep apnea increases risk of truck accidents

Usually when one thinks about the dangers of being a truck driver, the focus is on what happens when a driver gets into an accident. Truck accidents can cause serious injury and fatalities because of the size and weight of the vehicle. Trucks are recognized as having large blind spots and being slow to brake, which are both factors in the injuries caused by truck accidents. However, there are some factors that come in to play before the driver hits the road, such as health issues.

Sleep apnea frequently leads to chronic fatigue, since people who suffer from the condition are often unable to sleep through the night. Chronic fatigue, in turn, can cause slow reaction times, distractibility and other concentration problems that are highly hazardous for drivers.

Truck accidents are 242% more likely for a driver with sleep apnea than for one without the condition. This extreme difference has caused industry regulators to take notice and add sleep apnea to a set of health standards that truck drivers must meet.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing that doctors automatically screen a truck driver for sleep apnea if they have a body mass index of 35 or higher. Body Mass Index (or BMI) is one of the strongest indicators of a risk of sleep apnea.

Regulators say that the problem of sleep apnea and chronic fatigue are become more well known but are not well understood among drivers themselves. Still, many companies have recognized the danger of severely fatigued drivers and are implementing different types of programs to screen employees for sleep apnea.

Source: Trucking Info, "FMCSA proposes guidance for sleep apnea," Oliver B. Patton, April 20, 2012.

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