According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, fatigue is one of the leading causes of large truck accidents in the United States. Although federal regulators have sought to combat fatigue by implementing new hourly regulations1 for truck, bus, and similar commercial vehicle drivers, recent medical studies indicate that this may not solve the fatigue crisis. As it turns out, many truck drivers, who tend to be middle-aged men with higher rates of obesity, may suffer from a dangerous disorder called “obstructive sleep apnea.”
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Risk Factors and Symptoms
Obstructive sleep apnea2 is a serious sleeping disorder that causes a person’s breathing to repeatedly stop and restart while he or she is sleeping. It is caused when the throat muscles relax and actually block the airway during sleep. Symptoms of sleep apnea include the following:
- Excessive sleepiness during waking hours;
- Loud snoring;
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping;
- Daytime headaches;
- Difficulty concentrating, and
- Mood changes, such as irritability or depression.
Risk factors for developing sleep apnea include excessive weight, smoking, and high blood pressure. Further, men, who make up the vast majority of truck drivers, are twice as likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea as women. Naturally, these symptoms and risk factors can be a dangerous combination for the truck driving industry.
Sleep Apnea and the Trucking Industry
Although truck drivers are required to pass certain health screenings during the licensing process, there is currently no federal requirement that truck drivers be tested for sleep apnea. However, with long hours on the road coupled with limited opportunities for nutritious meals, truck drivers have a high risk of developing sleep apnea, which may cause excessive sleepiness in an industry in which fatigue is already a major truck crash factor. If a truck driver begins to suffer from severe fatigue on the road, he or she may cause an accident by “overcorrecting” the truck after coming to. Such overcorrection may cause the truck to “jackknife,” which occurs when too much brake pressure is applied or the truck is suddenly maneuvered such that the back tires to lose traction, and the truck and the trailer fold into an unpredictable “L” or “V” shape.