One of the hot topics in trucking news for the last few years has been that of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a medical condition that prevents its victims from getting a good night’s sleep, ensuring that they are drowsy all day long. You can imagine the dangers that truck drivers with sleep apnea might pose to themselves or others. Estimates are that sleep apnea contributes to 100,000 trucking crashes and 1,500 trucking accident related deaths each year.
Yesterday, a Wilwaukee TV station had a nice little story on these sleep apnea problems. The story cites one study that finds around 50% of all truckers suffer from sleep apnea. (Other studies find that number closer to 70%, and at least one study found the number to be as low as 17% — about the same as the general population.) Generally, truck drivers are at a higher risk for sleep apnea problems. One of the risk factors for development of sleep apnea is irregular sleep hours. Since a large portion of truckers prefer to drive at night or at least wake up very early in the morning to beat rush hour traffic, this risk factor clearly hits truckers. Another risk factor is obesity. Unfortunately, if a truck driver is driving ten or eleven hours a day, he or she doesn’t leave a lot of time for exercise so a number of truck drivers are victims of this risk factor.
Fortunately, sleep apnea can be detected through medical tests, and there is some movement by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to require that truck drivers be screened for sleep apnea issues. And, as the news story notes, some trucking companies are already screening for apnea issues.
For those interested in safe roadways, this is certainly one item to keep an eye on.