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Update: Truck Driver Fatigue

In a February post, I discussed the dangerous issue of truck driver fatigue. Many people know the story of comedian Tracy Morgan who suffered a brain injury in a crash caused by a severely fatigued truck driver. I’ve written about that case The driver who caused Morgan’s severe injuries had been operating his truck for far too many hours without rest. That’s not acceptable.

As drivers, we share Alabama roads and highways with large commercial vehicles. Many commercial truck drivers practice safe driving. Yet, a few do not. Some commercial truck drivers ignore safety, operate carelessly, disregard other drivers or drive their trucks while severely fatigued. Truck driver fatigue is a major safety hazard on our highways. Despite this known danger, trucking company lobbyists continue to push for relaxed rules that would allow longer driver hours. Again, that’s not acceptable.

My prior post lists trucker hours and trucker health as two main causes of fatigue. The issue of long trucker hours is well known. Yet, many people are unaware of the significant dangers from truck driver health problems.

One of the major health issues leading to truck driver fatigue is sleep apnea. At the Blackwell Law Firm, we’ve investigated truck drivers suffering sleep apnea and fatigue. We’ve seen this problem and the major safety issues it can cause. Now, research from Harvard also shows the major safety risk presented by truck drivers with obstructive sleep apnea. According to recent Harvard research:

Truck drivers with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) who failed to adhere to treatment had a rate of preventable crashes five times higher than that of truckers without the ailment.  .  .

That’s a huge difference in truck crashes. In their report, the Harvard researchers explain the significance of truck driver fatigue in causing potentially deadly accidents:

It’s estimated that up to 20% of all large truck crashes are due to drowsy or fatigued driving, which would account for almost 9,000 fatalities and up to 220,000 serious injuries.  .  .

Truck driver fatigue is a major cause of truck crashes. Those crashes result in many lives lost or changed forever. The human toll in deaths, disabilities and injuries should not be acceptable to anyone. Statistics now show a huge increase in fatigue-related crashes from untreated medical problems like sleep apnea. What should we do to make our highways safer? What should we do to reduce or eliminate trucker health problems as a cause of deadly highway crashes? The Harvard researchers suggest:

The findings suggest that commercial truck drivers should be regularly screened for sleep apnea and required to treat it if they have it in order to continue driving, according to Stefanos Kales, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School, Chief of Occupational Medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance, and senior author of the study.

I agree. Commercial truck drivers should be regularly screened for dangerous health conditions like sleep apnea. Where the driver has sleep apnea, treatment should be required. Yet, simply stating a requirement is not sufficient. We recently resolved a large truck crash case in Alabama where the driver had severe sleep apnea. In that case, the driver’s apnea had been diagnosed before the wreck. However, the medical doctor allowed him to continue driving and the trucking company failed to insist on proper treatment. The result of that carelessness – a mother suffered a disabling injury from an easily preventable truck accident. A mother and her family must now deal with injuries that have completely altered their lives. That’s not acceptable.

We need a rule to protect our families from truck drivers with dangerous medical conditions. We also need an enforcement program to insure the rule is followed and bad drivers are not allowed on our highways.