Sleep Apnea and Commercial Truck Drivers

A new study reveals that almost half of all commercial truck drivers may be at risk for obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that can cause drowsiness and fatigue behind the wheel. This study is of note because up until now, experts believed that this number was much lower; more in the range of seven to thirty percent at most.

In a January article in Transport Topics, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s 2020 study discussed the research, the problem with sleep apnea, and the dangers of the condition for truck drivers – as well as any other vehicles and pedestrians sharing the road with them and their tractor-trailers. To understand why sleep apnea can cause fatigued driving and truck crashes, you first must understand what the condition is.

Sleep Apnea Truck Accidents

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes someone to repeatedly stop and start breathing in their sleep. This condition can cause serious health consequences and side effects. The most common type of sleep apnea, and the type of condition the study is discussing, is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The Mayo Clinic describes OSA as when your throat muscles involuntarily relax during sleep and block your airway.

They list the following symptoms of OSA:

  • “Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Loud snoring
  • Observed episodes of stopped breathing during sleep
  • Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Morning headache
  • Difficulty concentrating during the day
  • Experiencing mood changes, such as depression or irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • Nighttime sweating
  • Decreased libido”

Patients can be diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea through their doctor or through a sleep specialist. There are many treatments for sleep apnea, including CPAP machines or other devices.

Research methodology

Transport Topics described the methodology of the research, which included the STOP-BANG screening method for obstructive sleep apnea. They used this method to screen 20,000 commercial truck drivers, using an eight-item assessment tool. Participants were asked to assess themselves on:

  1. Snoring
  2. Tiredness during the day
  3. Obstructive apnea
  4. blood Pressure
  5. Body mass index
  6. Age
  7. Neck circumference
  8. Gender

If participants scored above a certain level, they were referred for further sleep apnea testing.

After analyzing and extrapolating their data, researchers found that about 49 percent of truck drivers currently on the road would be flagged for OSA testing if they were required to complete a STOP-BANG assessment. Currently, however, the only testing for sleep apnea for commercial truck drivers is a single question on a medical exam. It is certainly possible that drivers may misrepresent themselves, or are completely unaware that they have or are even at risk for OSA.

“Beyond the health consequences, there are also safety consequences that are well established in the literature that those diagnosed with OSA that is not treated increases your crash risk because you’re not getting sleep,” Jeffrey Hickman, a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute researcher, told Transport Topics. “If you’re not getting sleep, you’re tired when you’re driving and so that results in a lot of inattention that increases your crash risk.”

If you or a loved one were injured in a tractor-trailer crash, talk to the Maryland injury attorneys at Plaxen Adler Muncy, P.A. for experienced legal guidance. We work to track down all negligent parties, hold them accountable, and secure compensation for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation about your case, give us a call today at 410-730-7737 or use our contact form.