Drivers and Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that involves the blockage or collapse of the airway for repetitive periods of 10 seconds or more. When the airway is closed off, sleep apnea patients experience low concentrations of oxygen and high concentrations of carbon monoxide in their blood. Sleep apnea also frequently causes inconsistent sleep because patients often wake up repeatedly to gasp for air during the night.

Previously, experts estimated that anywhere between 6 and 30 percent of commercial truck drivers could have undiagnosed sleep apnea. However, a 2020 study conducted by researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) suggests that close to half of all truck drivers could suffer from the illness.

CMV Drivers and Sleep Apnea

Researchers used an eight-part screening tool to assess sleep apnea risk factors such as snoring, tiredness, age, and neck circumference. The study tested 20,000 drivers, and more than 9,000 exhibited signs of “potential” sleep apnea.

Many truck drivers face several health challenges that put them at increased risk of medical conditions like sleep apnea. Long working hours, a lack of exercise, and limited access to healthy foods during travel can lead to excess weight, contributing to obstructive sleep apnea.

The VTTI study concluded that drivers with undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea are at significant risk of committing moving violations or being involved in crashes. Researchers noted that diagnosing sleep apnea can be difficult because many drivers are aware of the associated treatments and may be “less than truthful” to avoid them.

DOT Sleep Apnea Regulations

The Department of Transportation (DOT) currently has no specific regulations that require commercial truck drivers to be tested for sleep apnea. However, drivers must undergo medical examinations to obtain and keep a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Medical professionals typically evaluate drivers during these exams to determine whether sleep apnea testing is needed.

Drivers can be disqualified under DOT regulations if they have medical histories or are clinically diagnosed with any conditions that could hinder their ability to drive safely. This includes sleep disorders like sleep apnea. However, drivers can be considered “medically qualified to drive” as soon as they undergo effective sleep apnea treatment.

How Sleep Apnea Can Cause Truck Accidents

Sleep apnea interferes with the ability to achieve healthy, restful sleep. When you suffer from a lack of sleep, your ability to remain alert and focused during the day is diminished. Fatigue can make it harder for drivers to maintain visual focus, monitor their surroundings, and react swiftly to emergencies on the road.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Studies suggest that going without sleep for just 24 hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content (BAC) above the legal limit. Fortunately, treatments such as the use of CPAP machines and surgery can lower the crash risk of drivers with sleep apnea to the same level as those without the disorder.

Contact Custodio & Dubey LLP Today

If you were involved in a Los Angeles truck accident, the attorneys at Custodio & Dubey LLP can help. Let us handle your compensation claim while you focus on your health and recovery. Contact us today for a free consultation.