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Screening for sleep apnea could reduce truck crashes

Federal trucking regulations cover many things, such as the hours a bus driver can drive without sleeping, the amount of downtime that must be taken between shifts and the size and weight of vehicles. One aspect that currently is not provided for is tracking or treating sleep apnea. West Virginia residents familiar with the condition may be thinking how it affects truck drivers and the answer may surprise them.

Firstly, obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder. A person's breathing pattern becomes irregular in this disorder, starting and stopping as the person sleeps. Obesity and poor sleep patterns are some factors that lead to sleep apnea and the complications include fatigue and eye troubles. So how does this relate to truck drivers? Due to their lifestyle and routine, truck drivers are more likely to develop sleep apnea. This means they become drowsy while driving and can cause truck accidents. truck drivers who have this condition and remain untreated have accident rates five times higher than those truck drivers who do not have this illness.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recommended that people with a BMI of 35 or higher get sleep tests but the rule has not been formally adopted. Carriers that adopt this practice are actually performing their due diligence and going a long way in ensuring that drivers are healthy and accidents can be avoided. More pressure for testing was added by the U.S. Supreme Court who recently refused to hear a case by a truck driver who claimed that his carrier violated his rights by requiring him to get tested. This means companies may choose to test drivers for this condition.

Fatigue and drowsiness are just some of the factors that can cause catastrophic truck crashes and they are also those that can be avoided by adequate rest and screening. If someone is injured in a crash with a truck, it might be possible to hold not only the truck driver responsible for his careless behavior, but also the trucking company for failing to regulate it.

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Stephen P. New, Attorney at Law
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