Sleep apnea is a much-discussed topic in the trucking industry ever since 2002. A study sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations, and conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, found that 28 percent of commercial drivers suffer from mild to severe forms of the disorder.
Concerns about, and research into, how sleep apnea could impact driving performance led safety experts and federal agencies to support tighter screenings and regulations for affected commercial drivers. The Obama Administration agreed, proposing sleep apnea screening requirements for truck drivers as well as train engineers.
However, in August 2017, under the direction of the Trump Administration, officials from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the FMCSA announced they would abandon plans to implement sleep apnea screenings for truck drivers as part of a wide-scale regulatory rollback. The decision has stunned some safety experts, who claim that no one benefits by having potentially unsafe commercial drivers sharing the road with the general public.
People injured in truck crashes caused by truckers with undiagnosed, untreated, or uncontrolled sleep apnea may be entitled to compensation. If you were hurt in such an accident, here's what you should know.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common disorder that affects a person's ability to breathe effectively while sleeping. The disorder may make it difficult for someone to get a productive breath or cause them to briefly stop breathing. These pauses in breathing can last 10 seconds or longer and, in some cases, may occur hundreds of times each night. Struggling to breathe may partially rouse the person from sleep, preventing them from achieving a deep sleep or feeling rested in the morning.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which causes temporary blockages of the nasal passages, is particularly common among long-haul commercial drivers.
Common symptoms associated with sleep apnea include:
- Severe fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring
- Inability to focus the eyes
- Impotence or loss of sex drive
- Trouble concentrating
- Headaches or nausea which may be worse in the morning
- Memory issues
- Choking or gasping during sleep
- Delayed reactions
- Depression or irritability
- Frequent nighttime urination
If untreated, sleep apnea can affect trucker's driving performance by decreasing daytime alertness, making it hard to focus or stay awake, and slowing reaction times. Once the condition is diagnosed, the solution is often the use of a CPAP machine to help an individual breathe while sleeping.
Sleep Apnea Risk Factors
A number of factors can indicate an increased risk of developing sleep apnea, including:
- A family history of sleep apnea
- A lack of regular exercise
- A sedentary job or lifestyle
- Overweightness or obesity
- High blood pressure
- Tobacco or alcohol use
- A small upper airway
- A recessed chin
- A small jaw
- A large overbite
- A large neck circumference (17 inches or greater for men; 16 inches or greater for women)
- Heavy snoring
- Difficulty breathing through the nose
- Being male
- Being 40 or older
Requirements for Truckers With Sleep Apnea and Their Employers
Having sleep apnea doesn't necessarily preclude truckers from driving. As long as their sleep apnea is controlled—as determined by state or federal medical standards and a licensed doctor—commercial drivers can be declared medically-qualified to drive and continue working.
Drivers who fail to get their sleep apnea under control, or trucking companies that don't take reasonably steps to ensure the medical fitness of their employees, may be found in violation of FMCSA regulations.
Do You Need a Truck Accident Attorney?
If you were harmed in a truck accident caused by fatigue related to a driver's uncontrolled sleep apnea, you may be entitled to compensation for injuries and other damages. Contact McGartland Law Firm today to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation initial consultation to speak to a legal professional about your case.