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Truck Driver Sleep Apnea — A Serious Highway Danger

Truck Accident LawyersI recently read a law firm article indicating nearly half of truck drivers are prone to sleep apnea. That article reaches this conclusion based on a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study using the STOP-BANG method of screening truck drivers. The Virginia Tech researchers interviewed 20,000 commercial drivers. So, the study has a broad base for reliability. The data is very interesting.

While the law firm’s article cites the study, it really only lists the scary statistics. Yes, it is scary to think up to half of the truck drivers around you may be sleep deprived. The article does a good job of scaring the reader into calling the law firm. Why not talk about potential solutions? The law firm’s article tells us the problem but offers no discussion into solutions. Of course, that’s like most law firm websites — short on real discussion. If it’s a problem (and it is), then the real discussion should surround potential solutions that make our highways safer. With that in mind, I’ll briefly discuss the study. Then, I’m going to talk about two areas where I think we can improve highway safety and trucker health.

What Does The Virginia Tech Research Tell Us?

What is the STOP-BANG method? It’s an eight-item assessment where the truck drivers completed information on the following:

  1. Snoring
  2. Tiredness during the daytime
  3. Obstructive apnea
  4. Blood Pressure
  5. Body mass index
  6. Age
  7. Neck circumference
  8. Gender

Keep in mind, the assessment is a good introduction but it is not a scientific study. In the Virginia Tech study, truck drivers who scored above a set threshold were referred for sleep apnea evaluation and testing. The Stop-Bang method is simply an assessment of risks for sleep apnea in participants. Conditions like blood pressure, body mass, and neck circumference are potential risk factors for sleep apnea. Drivers with these conditions are more likely to suffer real sleep apnea. According to this study, 49 percent of truckers need medical screening to see if they actually have sleep apnea.

The study is in-line with current research regarding trucker sleep apnea. According to the data I’ve seen, from 1/3 to almost 1/2 of truck drivers may suffer from sleep apnea to some extent.

Truck driver fatigue is a huge safety issue on Alabama highways. A number of factors contribute to truck driver fatigue. Long work hours. Sleeping accommodations. Drugs. Driver health. They all contribute. When it comes to driver health, a high percentage of truck drivers suffer obesity and related conditions like sleep apnea.

How Can We Increase The Health And Safety Of Our Truck Drivers?

Now, let’s discuss the important issues. What steps can improve highway safety? What actions can reduce the risk of serious personal injury to our family, friends and neighbors? What can improve the health of our truck drivers? The statistics are shocking — Close to half of truckers might have sleep apnea. What’s the benefit of simply reporting shocking stats? Let’s talk safety improvements. I believe two simple steps could really improve trucker safety. Here are they are:

We Need A Better Medical Certification System

Over the last few years, I’ve written numerous articles about our broken certification system. Medical certification is a great concept. In theory, the requirement helps keep unsafe truckers off the highway. It also helps truckers who may have an underlying health condition that could be treated before it is too late for their own health.

Yet, the system only works if the physicians who conduct these examinations are honest and legitimate. Are they? In recent years, medical certifiers in Alabama (and elsewhere) have been arrested and convicted of running scams to provide false and fraudulent certifications. In some situations, so-called certifiers even operated out of truck stops simply handing out certifications to everyone. Certifiers in both Alabama and Georgia who ran these scams were falsely certifying thousands of truckers with no real health screening. We can do better. We must do better if we want safe roadways.

The system only works if the medical certifiers are actually qualified. Is the certifier an actual physician? In recent years, the regulations have expanded the practice beyond physicians. Is a chiropractor qualified to examine, diagnose or treat sleep apnea, visual problems, etc.. Of course not. We can do better.

Improve the medical certification system and we improve highway safety. We reduce serious truck crashes, injuries and deaths. Improve the medical certification system and we improve overall long-term truck driver health.

We Need A Better Industry-Level Medical System

Long-haul truck drivers suffer much higher rates of obesity, diabetes and sleep apnea. Why? It’s simple. The job is largely sedentary. You sit for long periods of time. You often eat poorly. You often work long hours. You often sleep away from the comfort of home.

Some trucking companies take advantage of truckers, pushing them for more miles and more trips. We need a better certification system. After that, we need a system that supplies the medical needs to truckers. Many of these health conditions can be treated with simple changes. Some, like sleep apnea, can often be treated with medical equipment.

Trucking companies should take steps to improve the health of their own drivers. And, we need to hold trucking companies accountable for their part in knowingly accepting false certifications and knowingly allowing dangerous drivers on the highway. Too many trucking companies (wink, wink) knowingly accept false medical certifications or overlook easily treated conditions in their drivers. That puts all of us at risk.

How Should You Respond If Injured By A Fatigued Truck Driver?

Commercial truck injury cases are very different than typical car accident cases. For one thing, many trucking companies employ rapid response teams. What are those? Those are teams of investigators and lawyers who start working the scene and witnesses immediately after an accident to prepare a defense. Sometimes, those teams arrive at the crash scene while the police are still present. Several years ago, I had a trucking injury case where the rapid response team actually talked an investigating officer into destroying his initial accident report and re-writing a new one more favorable to the negligent trucker. Thankfully, we were able to chase down the evidence and prove this misconduct.

If you are injured, you need to consider the possibility that the trucker may be fatigued. Make sure you investigate and obtain discovery into his or her medical certifications and health issues. You may discover a wealth of information. In another recent truck crash case, we learned the at-fault trucker had received bad medical reports questioning his ability to continue driving due to severe sleep apnea. The company received this information but continued to employ him as a long-haul driver. The trucker also had a documented history of sleep problems while driving. Investigate the medical and health information as much as possible! Chase down the evidence. These are not typical car accident cases.

A Few More Articles On The Issue Of Commercial Truck Driver Health And Safety

Driver health is an important issue! It’s important for the truck drivers and the people in cars around them. So, it’s something we often discuss. In recent years, I’ve written a number of articles on the topic. I’ve listed a few here if you are interested in some of the issues:

If you have questions about commercial truck drivers and highway safety, let me know. I’m happy to discuss your issues.

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From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm helps people with serious injuries across Alabama. Outside the courtroom, we continue to advocate for safer workplaces, safer highways and safer products.

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