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Sleep apnea and truck drivers: A deadly combination


Professional truck drivers must adhere to multiple federal regulations, specifically when it comes to time traveling on the road and the need for breaks and adequate sleep. Ignoring those rules can have catastrophic consequences.

Driving while sleep-deprived

Many of those long-haul drivers who suffer from sleep apnea, either diagnosed or undiagnosed, represent a significant risk to themselves and the vehicle occupants sharing the road. Fatigue management is a crucial issue receiving long-awaited and much-needed attention in the freight industry, specifically when it comes to a dangerous and deadly sleep disorder.

The American Sleep Apnea Association defines obstructive sleep apnea as an involuntary stoppage of breathing while sleeping. The body’s response results in waking up the sleeper, but not completely. The process repeats, sometimes up to 100 times per night, depriving the individual of true sleep that allows the body to rest and dream fully.

Sleep apnea can also result in weight gain, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases. Drivers, in particular, can also suffer from daytime fatigue and difficulty in focusing on the road.

A recent study of approximately 20,000 drivers by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) revealed up to 47 percent are at potential risk of sleep apnea due to higher body mass indexes (BMI) and neck sizes that exceed the average of 17 inches.

One research scientist estimated that about a third of truck drivers suffer from the affliction, far higher than the general population at between six and 17 percent.

While some companies are starting to screen new applicants for sleep apnea, the sheer number of truck drivers traveling the roads with undiagnosed sleep apnea could result in countless and catastrophic motor vehicle collisions.