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Brett Emison
Brett Emison
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Study: Sleep Apnea A Significant, Unrecognized Problem In Commercial Truck Drivers

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Sleep Apnea Potential Cause of Trucking Accidents and Trucking CrashesI have written before about the problem of fatigue for airline pilots and truck drivers. Now Truckinginfo.com – the web site of Heavy Duty Trucking magazine – has reported on a study that found 41% of Australian commercial truck drivers. Truckinginfo suggests that 30% of American truck drivers may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea that can contribute to fatigued driving, accidents, crashes, and collisions.

The study – published in the journal Sleep – found that sleep apnea remains a significant, unrecognized problem in commercial motor vehicle drivers, many of whom have multiple health risks. Though only 4.4% of drivers surveyed reported a previous diagnosis of sleep apnea, testing showed 41% of the drivers suffered from the condition. Thirty-six percent of drivers were overweight, 50% were obese, and 49% were cigarette smokers — each of which increases the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

An NPR report noted that truck drivers are more likely to be overweight, which is a significant factor in the onset of sleep apnea.

"I'm not bad. I'm 6-foot-4, but I weigh 406 pounds," says driver Jerry Mumma. "Do I need to lose weight? Oh yeah, I need to lose weight. I need to get down to about 260, 280 pounds."

Mumma's got company. Doctors writing federal transportation policy believe that up to 40 percent of professional drivers are significantly overweight."

Sitting in his truck, Marty Ellis blames the job. "Since I went to work here, I've gained 100 pounds – because you're sedentary," Ellis says. "This is your job – to sit behind this wheel."


"Most of us don't go to the doctor. We just, stay clear of 'em, and we just keep going," Ellis says. "A lot of owner operators out here don't have insurance."

According to the US Department of Transportation, untreated sleep apnea can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, which impairs judgment, causes attention deficits, slows reaction times, and decreases alertness. Any one of these sleep apnea side effects can have devastating consequences for a pilot of an 80,000 tractor-trailer and those around him on the highway. Untreated sleep apnea greatly increases a truck driver's risk for being involved in a fatigue-related motor vehicle crash.

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea:

Family History of Sleep Apnea Large Neck Size (17+ in. for men; 16+ in. for women)
Small Upper Airway

Smoking and Alcohol Use

Being Overweight Age 40 and Older
Having Recessed Chin, Small Jaw, or Large Overbite Ethnicity

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea:

Loud Snoring Irritability / Feelings of Depression
Morning Headaches & Nausea Disturbed Sleep
Gasping or Choking While Sleeping Concentration & Memory Problems
Loss of Sex Drive / Impotence Frequent Nighttime Urination
Excessive Daytime Sleepiness

Each state sets its own medical standards for commercial vehicle drivers, though many states have adopted medical regulations found in Section 391.41(b)(5) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and have determined that sleep apnea is a disqualifying condition. Motor carriers – trucking companies – should be testing drivers to ensure they do not suffer moderate to severe sleep apnea that will interfere with safe driving and lead to trucking accidents and crashes.

[More on Semi Truck and Tractor Trailer Crashes]

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(c) Copyright 2012 Brett A. Emison

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