Understanding Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a common sleeping disorder when a person’s breathing continually stops and starts due to a narrow or closed airway. A person may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), where the palate collapses and obstructs the airways, or central sleep apnea (CSA), a communication breakdown between the brain and the respiratory system. A person with combined OSA and CSA symptoms may suffer from complex sleep apnea syndrome.
As the body instinctively wakes when airflow stops, sleep apnea can prevent truck drivers from reaching a state of deep sleep. Instead of going through the complete sleep cycle needed to repair the mind and body, they drift in and out of the first stages. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has acknowledged that sleep apnea affects alertness and performance.
The Problem With Interrupted Sleep
Sleep apnea can interrupt sleep hundreds of times per night, depriving a trucker of cognitive, physical, and emotional rest and leading to extreme fatigue during the day. A driver could potentially suffer a variety of symptoms due to this medical condition.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
- Daytime drowsiness. One of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea is excessive daytime sleepiness. People with sleep apnea often report feeling tired during the day, even after a full night’s sleep.
- Sudden napping. Drivers may doze off at inopportune times or be unable to stay awake.
- Memory problems. Drivers may also have difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
- Loud snoring. Loud snoring is another common symptom of sleep apnea, caused by the obstruction of airflow through the throat.
- Wake up gasping for air. People with sleep apnea often wake up gasping for air because the obstruction in the airway causes a drop in oxygen levels in the blood.
- Headaches in the morning. The lack of oxygen to the brain during episodes of stopped breathing often causes morning headaches.
- Slowed reflexes. Even if drivers don’t fall asleep behind the wheel, their alertness and reaction times can slow down considerably, making them less able to react quickly to avoid a collision.
Sleep Apnea Is Prevalent Among Massachusetts Truckers
The most significant hazard for drivers with sleep apnea is the risk of a drowsy driving crash. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), drivers falling asleep at the wheel account for an estimated 100,000 accidents annually. While drowsy drivers in smaller vehicles are dangerous, a sleep-deprived trucker hauling tons of cargo down a busy highway can be deadly.
Why Sleep Apnea Is a Problem With Commercial Truck Drivers
- Lack of diagnosis. While sleep apnea is a treatable condition, as many as 80% of people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea remain undiagnosed. Employers do not currently require sleep apnea testing before hiring truck drivers.
- Obesity. A life of driving makes it difficult to eat healthily or get enough exercise. In 2014, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety found that interstate truck drivers had a 70 percent obesity rate.
- Lifestyle choices. Studies have shown that truck drivers have a higher rate of cigarette smoking and alcohol use than workers in other occupations.
- Speed incentives. Trucking companies use bonuses to motivate drivers to bring orders in ahead of schedule, encouraging drivers to cut their rest breaks short to get back on the road.
- Highway hypnosis. It’s easier for people with sleep apnea to stay awake if their jobs require them to stay active. A truck driver covers hundreds of miles per day while sitting in the same position, and the scenery changes very little. The monotony of the journey can lull already-tired drivers to sleep.
- Depression and stress. Rest has a significant impact on a truck driver’s mental health. The more tired a driver is, the more irritable and stressed they become, making them likely to make mistakes behind the wheel.
- Fear of losing income. The FMCSA has recognized the dangers of untreated sleep apnea in truck drivers. Their regulations state that no trucker may operate a commercial motor vehicle if their driving ability is impaired or could become impaired due to fatigue or illness. Since the FMCSA can deem those with sleep disorders medically unfit to drive, truckers may hide their sleep apnea or fail to get diagnosed to continue working.
Was Sleep Apnea a Factor in Your Semi Truck Crash?
Medical and driving records are crucial to establishing whether sleep apnea could have played a role in causing your accident. For example, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires doctors to measure a driver’s body mass index (BMI) before deeming them fit to drive. The doctor may have ordered a follow-up sleep study test if the truck driver's BMI is 30 or greater. If the trucker showed signs of sleep apnea at the appointment or never received follow-up care, they may be liable for negligence.
A large truck crash can cause serious injuries, extensive damage to property, or even death to the people involved. In addition to physical injuries, a semi-truck accident can result in an inability to work and severe psychological damage for the victims and their families.
Remedies may be available for truck crash victims, including monetary awards to cover medical bills and loss of income related to the crash. The most important thing victims can do is to seek out an attorney who offers no-obligation consultations and represents them on a contingency-fee basis. Please contact us online, or call 508-879-3500 to schedule a free case evaluation with the injury attorneys at Mahaney & Pappas, LLP, and ensure your legal rights are protected.