Sleep Apnea May be Leading to Fatigued Truck Driving Accidents

In recent years, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has begun to find ways to combat fatigued driving, including proposing changes to the hours of service (HOS) rules pertaining to the number of hours that truck drivers can spend behind the wheel. One of the causes of fatigued driving that is beginning to garner attention is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition in which the upper airway constricts during sleep and causes the sleeper to be unable to take full breaths or pauses in breathing. Sleep apnea, when not treated, results in people’s sleep to be disturbed leaving them tired the next day, even if they receive a “full” night’s sleep. However, it should be noted, that when caught, sleep apnea can be effectively treated with a sleep machine that helps people breathe while sleeping. Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard University Medical School was quoted as saying that sleep apnea may be responsible for 20 percent (one in five) fatal truck accidents. “I would argue that fatigue as a causal factor in truck-involved crashes is underreported, not over-reported,” stated Schneider National Trucking’s vice president of safety Don Osterberg, as quoted in the Charlotte Observer. The problem with determining the exact number of truck driving accidents that are caused by fatigued drivers is that, as Mr. Osterberg notes, drivers have to actually acknowledge that they were asleep behind the wheel when the crash occurred. To fight fatigued driving, the FMCSA is proposing changes to the HOS rules that govern commercial truck drivers. Among the proposed changes are the inclusion of a second overnight period (midnight to 6 a.m.) prior to the restarting drivers’ weekly hours and the possible reduction of the number of hours to 10 that drivers can be behind the wheel in one day. Further, the Charlotte Observer reports that an advisory panel of medical experts may recommend that severely obese drivers be screened for sleep apnea in order to help reduce the number of dangerous trucking accidents caused by fatigued drivers. Source: Charlotte Observer, “Sleep apnea: hidden cause of wrecks,” Stuart Watson, 12/14/2011.