The government recently shelved a plan to screen truck drivers for this serious sleep disorder, and at least one doctor is worried.
Reaction to the proposed rule among truckers ranged from “no big deal” to “ridiculous.” Although some transportation companies currently have their own screening plans, there is no absolute requirement and there are no uniform standards. Allegheny General Hospital sleep specialist Dr. Daniel Shade finds the lack of rules disturbing, because “People who are sleep deprived are seven times more likely to have a motor vehicle crash.” Dr. Shade also pointed out that a sleep apnea diagnosis does not necessarily mean that the person is unfit to drive, since “pilots can continue to fly with sleep apnea, as long as they’re treated and compliant.”
“I think there needs to be a standard,” he concluded.
Sleep Apnea: The Basics
People with this disorder do not breathe normally at night, so instead of falling into a deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, they normally doze for a few minutes and then wake up over and over again. There are two types of sleep apnea:
- OSA: Most people with this disorder have Obstructive Sleep Apnea. During sleep, the airways are almost completely blocked on an intermittent basis, usually by the soft tissue near the back of the throat.
- CSA: Central Sleep Apnea is a much more uncommon condition in which, for some reason, the brain fails to send breath signals to the muscles.
In either case, the brain does not get enough oxygen, often leading to severe consequences like the aforementioned increase in motor vehicle collisions, as well as diabetes, hypertension, and depression.
Overweight men over 40, especially those with a family history of sleep apnea or those with abnormally-large tonsils or necks, are the most at-risk age group.
Sleep Apnea and Truck Drivers
In a nutshell, if a trucker has undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea, the mandatory rest period either does no good or is actually counterproductive to safety.
The 11-hour daily/70-hour weekly driving rule limits the time that truckers spend behind the wheel, but does nothing to ensure that they are resting during their rest periods. If a trucker has even mild sleep apnea, seven or eight hours of sleep may only feel like a brief nap. If the trucker does not wake up, the effects are even worse, because the person is operating one of the largest vehicles on the planet with an oxygen-starved brain.
Legally, a medical examination is usually part of the discovery process. If the independent doctor discovers that the trucker has sleep apnea, or that the trucker has been diagnosed but is not properly medicated, liability for damages is easier to establish. The company might be legally responsible as well, if its sleep apnea screening program was inadequate or nonexistent.
Fatigued truck drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation, contact an experienced car accident lawyer can count on.