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Sleep Apnea Affects Nearly One-Third of Commercial Truck Drivers

Apr 22, 2016 - Truck Accidents by

The overall purpose of the often-complex Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours of service regulations is to increase roadway safety by preventing commercial truckers from drowsy driving. In essence, the regulations limit the number of consecutive hours that drivers can spend behind the wheel, and they also attempt to ensure that drivers get the right amount of sleep.

Our Charlotte truck accident attorneys believe that the regulations most likely prevent countless serious accidents every year. However, when drivers suffer from sleep apnea, they suffer from poorer-quality sleep regardless of hours. We applaud additional state and federal regulations that address this important issue.

FMCSA Regulations Address Conditions Preventing Safe Vehicle Operation

According to an article published by the FMCSA, sleep apnea is a medical condition that is commonly known to create daytime drowsiness, regardless of hours of sleep. This condition causes short breathing interruptions during sleep, potentially up to 400 times in a single night, and the interruptions have a notable impact on the quality of sleep. The following statistics illustrate the prominence of this problem:

  • Sleep apnea affects about 42 million adults in the U.S.
  • Individuals who have untreated moderate to severe sleep apnea are up to 15 times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident than non-sufferers.
  • If all U.S. drivers with sleep apnea were treated, nearly a thousand lives could be saved each year.

While FMCSA regulations do not specifically address sleep apnea, they do require medical certification of drivers before considering them to be medically qualified to operate commercial motor vehicles for interstate commerce. North Carolina essentially follows federal medical certification standards and requires many drivers to present medical cards when applying for licenses.

Trucker Medical Certification May Reduce Drowsy Driving Risks — But It Won’t Prevent Them

Truckers with diagnosed moderate to severe sleep apnea are not considered medically qualified for operation by the FMCSA and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Still, while tests are available to check for sleep apnea, the medical exam requirements continue to be somewhat confusing.

It is also important to understand that truckers can receive certification when they undergo treatment for sleep apnea. CPAP machines are probably the most common and best-known devices, but other alternatives can also be effective for some sleep apnea sufferers.

One major problem with many therapies, however, is that sufferers often have difficulty adjusting to them. Owning a device is not enough to reduce or remove the effects of sleep apnea; sufferers need to voluntarily and correctly use them every night. Even when used conscientiously, any level of discomfort can easily have a negative impact on the quality of uninterrupted sleep — and, ultimately, on the safety of other motorists.

Regardless of the precise reason for drowsy driving in truckers, motorists who share the road with these massive vehicles are at increased risk of becoming involved in potentially-deadly trucking accidents. Motorists should always remain watchful for signs of drowsy driving by truckers, but when prevention is not possible, they need to seek support from a legal advocate who truly understands the complex legal issues. For a free initial consultation, call us at 844-452-3688 or use our convenient online contact form.