When you're in control of a 40-ton vehicle, you'd better be fully awake and alert. However, when a truck driver suffers from sleep apnea, there may be no way to guarantee that he's had enough sleep to prevent him from dozing behind the wheel of his rig and causing a truck accident.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) understands the risk posed by sleep apnea and worked on the issue for several years. However, their efforts were recently blocked by the Trump administration, which withdrew the proposal to require screening of truck drivers and train engineers for sleep apnea.

The Dangers of Sleep Apnea for Truck Drivers

man with apnea maskSleep apnea is a difficult condition to diagnose. A person might be totally unaware that he has apnea and unware that he's not getting sufficient sleep.

Without regular screenings, these sufferers continue to drive and risk falling asleep behind the wheel.

According to the FMCSA, sleep apnea affects daytime alertness and performance. Untreated sleep apnea can make it difficult for a sufferer to stay awake, focus his eyes, and react quickly while driving. In general, studies show that people with untreated sleep apnea have an increased risk of being involved in a fatigue-related motor vehicle crash.

It's important that drivers with a risk factor for sleep apnea be properly evaluated by a doctor. Risk factors include:

  • A family history of sleep apnea
  • Having a small upper airway
  • Being overweight
  • Having a recessed chin, small jaw, or a large overbite
  • A large neck size
  • Smoking and alcohol use
  • Being age 40 or older
  • Ethnicity, as Asians and African-Americans are at an increased risk

It's also important to pay attention to symptoms of sleep apnea, and be evaluated if you have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Loud snoring
  • Morning headaches and nausea
  • Gasping or choking while sleeping
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability and/or feelings of depression
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Frequent nighttime urination

Commercial Truck Drivers Can Still Drive With Diagnosed Sleep Apnea

Now that the FMCSA has failed to establish regulations dealing specifically with obstructive sleep apnea, the condition falls under the general requirement that anyone with a diagnosed disorder that could interfere with their ability to drive safely cannot be medically qualified for a commercial driver’s license.

However, once the sleep apnea is treated, the driver may qualify for “medically qualified to drive” status. This means he can operate a truck as long as he continues treatment and it's effective.

Treatment for sleep apnea may include:

  • Use of a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP), which is a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth, and gently blows air into the airway to help keep it open during sleep.
  • Use of a dental device to position the lower jaw and tongue.
  • Surgery to remove tissue in the airway.
  • Use of a nasal device to open airways.
  • These treatment options are often accompanied by recommendations for lifestyle changes such as weight loss and smoking cessation.

Have You Been Injured In A Truck Accident?

If you've been injured in a tractor trailer accident you need to speak with an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.


James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.