A recent study out of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows that up to 49 percent of commercial truck drivers could be at risk for a condition called obstructive sleep apnea, which can cause drowsiness and fatigue while driving. Previously, experts believed the number of drivers with diagnosed or undiagnosed sleep apnea ranged between seven and 30 percent – this new data is alarming when considering the dangers of fatigued driving.
The study is broken out in detail in a recent article in Transport Topics, and discusses the ramifications and dangers of obstructive sleep apnea for truckers, truck crashes, and anyone sharing the road with them.
What is obstructive sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder that causes a person to repeatedly stop and start breathing in their sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea, according to the Mayo Clinic, and occurs when your throat muscles involuntarily relax during sleep and block your airway. The Mayo Clinic lists symptoms of OSA, which include:
- “Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring
- Observed episodes of stopped breathing during sleep
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headache
- Difficulty concentrating during the day
- Experiencing mood changes, such as depression or irritability
- High blood pressure
- Nighttime sweating
- Decreased libido”
The STOP-BANG method
The Virginia Tech study used the STOP-BANG method of screening when interviewing truckers. For this study, researchers interviewed 20,000 drivers. The STOP-BANG method is an eight-item risk assessment tool where participants fill out information on:
- Tiredness during the day
- Obstructive apnea
- blood Pressure
- Body mass index
- Neck circumference
Participants who score above a certain threshold were referred for sleep apnea testing.
The researchers found that approximately 49 percent of truckers on the road right now would likely be flagged for OSA testing if asked to fill out a STOP-BANG questionnaire. However, currently, the only sleep apnea screening tool required for commercial truck drivers is just one question on a medical exam. Some truck drivers may not even be aware they have or are at risk for sleep apnea, and others may hide a known diagnosis because they do not wish to use a CPAP machine or other medical device.
Why is sleep apnea such a dangerous condition?
OSA affects a trucker’s sleep cycle, which can cause drowsiness behind the wheel. People with sleep apnea do not get a full night’s sleep. This can lead to bad decision-making, slow reflexes, or even fully falling asleep behind the wheel and causing a crash. Drowsy drivers are dangerous for everyone on the road.
“The goal of the new study is really to get an accurate estimate of potential OSA,” presenter Jeffrey Hickman, a VTTI researcher who participated in the study, told Transport Topics. “We’re not trying to diagnose people. We’re just screening them. Beyond the health consequences, there are also safety consequences that are well established in the literature that those diagnosed with OSA that is not treated increases your crash risk because you’re not getting sleep.”
Were you or a loved one injured in a truck crash due to a fatigued driver? Talk to the attorneys at Martin & Helms. We bring decades of combined experience to the table and will work to secure you compensation for your injuries.
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