Are commercial drivers with sleep apnea posing a safety risk on our roadways? The Obama administration had instructed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to create provisions that required commercial drivers to be screened for sleep apnea. However, before the plan was implemented, the current administration canceled the provision.
A recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania indicates that approximately 28% of these drivers suffer from sleep apnea to some degree.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is characterized by brief interruptions or stoppages of breathing while the individual is sleeping. These breathing stoppages can last for up to ten seconds and may occur hundreds of times per night. It is a severe condition that has been life-threatening in rare cases. Sleep apnea is found among both sexes and all age ranges; however, some factors likely to exist among those who suffer from it include:
- Those with a family history of the problem
- Those overweight
- Mild facial deformities including recessed chin, undersized jaw, or a significant overbite
- Females with a neck larger than 16” or larger than 17” in men
- Those who smoke, consume alcohol, and have high blood pressure
- It is more likely in men than women and those over the age of 40
What are the Signs/Symptoms?
- Snoring loudly
- Headaches and nausea after awakening
- Gasping for air while sleeping
- Drowsiness during the daytime
- Interruptions in sleep
- Inability to concentrate or diminished memory
Potential Impact on Driving
Those studying the condition at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute say that sleep apnea suffers lack good quality sleep that leads to daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and reduced performance. When sleep apnea is not treated it can be difficult to remain awake while driving and significantly increases the risk of accidents resulting from fatigue. Many of those with sleep apnea say they have fallen asleep while behind the wheel.
FMCSA does not have a formal regulation or policy regarding drivers with sleep apnea, but a 2015 release encouraged drivers to be screened. They do have a provision that those drivers who have a medical condition that may compromise their ability to safely operate a vehicle are considered unqualified to operate commercial vehicles. Individual states can potentially implement such restrictions according to medical standards for those operating commercial vehicles within their borders.
Sleep apnea suffers may potentially be unaware of their condition, particularly if they sleep in a room alone. To accurately diagnose, the patient must stay overnight at a sleep testing center which monitors and assesses them. The majority of those with the problem can be treated successfully. Those who drive that are not treating the problem should see their doctor as soon as possible. Proponents of screening among drivers feel that standardized rules and treatment protocols are necessary for overall public safety.