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. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) understands the risk posed by sleep apnea and has worked on the issue for several years now. It recently took an important step in the rule-making process.
FMCSA and Sleep Apnea
The FMCSA has tried for several years to require commercial drivers to undergo screenings for possible obstructive sleep apnea. Congress pushed back on this proposal due to the potential cost to the trucking industry of over $1 billion annually. Legislation passed in October of 2013 required the FMCSA to go through a formal regulation process rather than the faster process of offering official guidance to medical examiners, carriers, and drivers in order to force the agency to seek input from all interested parties.
In the spring of 2016, the FMCSA took the first step in the process by publishing a notice seeking feedback from the trucking industry about the prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea among truck drivers, and any potential costs carriers and others may incur if the Department of Transportation were to issue a rule requiring sleep apnea screening and treatment. This input session took place in August of this year, completing the first step towards establishing a sleep apnea “pre-rule.”
The Dangers of Sleep Apnea for Drivers
Currently, the FMCSA’s recommendation is only drivers exhibiting symptoms of respiratory dysfunction be referred to specialists for evaluation. As many people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea show no daytime respiratory dysfunction symptoms, this rule allows many potential sufferers to slip through the cracks and to continue to drive when it may not be safe.
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 Drivers Can Still Drive With Sleep Apnea
Until the FMCSA establishes 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, meaning he can continue to operate a truck as long as he continues treatment and the treatment is 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.
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If you were injured in a crash with a commercial truck, you need experienced truck crash attorneys who will investigate every possible cause of your accident, including examining the medical records of the truck driver. If the truck driver was at fault, we will do our best to prove it and get you the settlement you deserve. Contact us by using the link on this page.