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Is there a correlation between sleep apnea and truck accidents?

On Behalf of | Feb 25, 2020 | Firm News

Have you ever found yourself yawning excessively as you drive? Have you ever had trouble remembering the last few miles of your trip? On those days, it may take every ounce of your energy to make sure you pay attention to the road and get to your destination safely. Once you do, you may breathe a sigh of relief.

Imagine if you spent every day struggling to focus and pay attention as you go through your ordinary routine because of fatigue. Now, imagine if you had to drive upwards of 11 hours a day in that condition. This is what many truck drivers experience due to sleep apnea, which makes them a threat to your safety as you travel with them on Louisiana’s roadways.

Obstructive sleep apnea

The majority of truck drivers who suffer from sleep apnea receive a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea. In this type of the condition, the muscles in the throat and the palette of the mouth relax to the point where they block the airway as the individual sleeps. Here’s what happens:

  • The relaxation that occurs blocks the upper airway for anywhere between five and 10 seconds, which can happen several times a night.
  • The individual’s brain goes into survival mode and temporarily wakes him or her to restart breathing, which can also happen several times a night.
  • The cycle keeps the individual from entering into REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep, which the body needs in order to repair the mental results of fatigue, such as memory, mood and emotion.
  • The cycle prevents the individual from getting deep sleep, which the body requires in order to repair the physical results of fatigue.

A truck driver suffering from sleep apnea may not even realize it since most people do not wake up enough to register being awake. As you can imagine, getting good and restorative sleep under these conditions is nearly impossible, which means that those truck drivers are usually excessively sleepy while piloting a large vehicle that can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Even though federal regulators require truck drivers to take mandatory rest breaks, it doesn’t mean they are getting the rest they need to do their jobs safely.

In an attempt to combat the number of truck drivers on the roads without treatment for OSA, when they receive their medical evaluations, doctors take neck and body mass index measurements since obesity is related to OSA. A driver with a neck measurement more than 17 inches for men and 16 inches for women and a BMI of 30 or more may require a sleep study. The problem is that medical evaluations do not take place often enough to catch OSA before an accident occurs.

Truck accidents involving OSA

With treatment, doctors do not see the condition as an issue. However, without treatment and excessive sleepiness from OSA, truck drivers most likely have trouble remaining vigilant and otherwise driving safely. You have no way of knowing which of the nearly 35% of truck drivers with this condition are next to you on the on the road.

You could end up suffering serious injuries or losing a loved one in a crash involving a truck driver suffering from untreated or undiagnosed OSA. If that happens, you may want to explore your legal options and gain an understanding of your rights.