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Federal Regulators Move to Screen All Truck Drivers for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

By April 29, 2011July 17th, 2019Highway Safety

More than a year ago, I wrote here from my perspective as a Missouri semi truck accident attorney about the issue of obstructive sleep apnea in truckers. Sleep apnea is a disorder in which patients’ breathing is inadequate or interrupted while they sleep, causing sleepiness in the daytime and the attendant cognitive and motor problems. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has identified the issue as an important contributor to driver fatigue, which is a major safety issue for truckers, trucking companies and everyone else who shares the highways. That’s why I was pleased to see that the FMCSA expects medical recommendations this summer on how to begin proposed screenings of truckers for obstructive sleep apnea.
The majority of sleep apnea cases are obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by a blockage in the airways rather than a problem with the nervous system. This causes poor sleep and frequent waking, which in turn causes the same problems posed by lack of sleep generally: slowed reaction times, problems with short-term memory and judgment, decreased motivation and vision problems. It’s believed that 6.5 percent of all Americans suffer from sleep apnea, but a 2002 study by the FMCSA found that an alarming 26 percent of commercial truck drivers have the problem.
That discovery may underlie the FMCSA’s desire to screen drivers. Its Medical Board recommended such screenings in 2008, but the agency hasn’t yet taken action. Its late August meeting may result in a plan of action. That would be applauded by some in the trucking industry, who were concerned that the 2008 recommendation wasn’t followed by action. An American Trucking Associations spokesperson said some carriers have begun screenings and others are still waiting for regulatory action. The same spokesperson said sleep apnea screenings may be more effective at fighting driver fatigue than hours of service limitations.
As a St. Louis tractor-trailer accident lawyer, I’m delighted that the trucking industry seems to be on board with these recommendations. As watchers of the industry know, it frequently resists regulation, seeing new requirements as a threat to business. It’s certainly true that allowing drivers to drive fewer hours drives down profit margins, but that may be an unavoidable part of the FMCSA’s larger mission: protecting the public from unsafe drivers and carriers. If a trucking company can’t make a profit without putting the public at an undue risk, perhaps it shouldn’t be in business. By contrast, some companies have voluntarily started screenings already. One Transport Topics Online article suggests that they’ve paid off for companies by creating more available, safe drivers and for drivers by treating a health problem that was affecting their lives.

At Carey, Danis & Lowe, we focus our practice on trucking accidents because we know they can be devastating. When a car and a Mack truck collide, the laws of physics say the car will always sustain greater damage — and the people inside can be killed or catastrophically injured. Semi-trailer accidents can cause permanent brain damage, paralysis and other life-changing injuries in an instant. When these crashes are caused by the negligence or illegal behavior of the trucker or the trucking company, victims can hold them legally and financially responsible. Our southern Illinois big rig accident attorneys represent families seeking fair compensation for their injuries and their financial costs — including a lifetime of lost income and lifelong medical care for those who need it.
If your family has been affected by a trucking accident you believe was caused by a careless trucker, you should call Carey, Danis & Lowe to find out how we can help. To set up a free evaluation of your case, send us an email or call us toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.