Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where a patient suffers from interruptions in sleep due to snoring, gasping or choking events (known as apneas). These interruptions cause daytime sleepiness that affects the patient’s ability to conduct daily activities, including driving. In one part of a study performed by the European Respiratory Society and the European Sleep Research Society, 133 patients with untreated sleep apnea and 89 people without it participated in the experiment. They were tested on the criteria of completing the distance of 90 km (56 miles), time spent in the middle lane, unprovoked crash or a veering event crash.
The results were rather clear. More of the untreated sleep apnea patients failed the test, 24% to 12% of the participants who do not have sleep apnea. As a matter of fact, many of the sleep apnea patients could not complete the test, could not follow the directions given at the beginning of the test and had more unprovoked crashes than those who do not have it. A second test was done on a driving simulator where sleep apnea patients and non-sufferers completed a questionnaire about their driving habits and then entered the simulator. The results were strikingly similar.
In response, Dr. Mark Elliot, chief investigator was quoted as saying, “Driving simulators can be a good way of checking the effects that a condition like sleep apnea can have on driving ability. Our research suggests that people with the condition are more likely to fail the test.”
This does not go unnoticed in the trucking world. Professional drivers are affected by driving schedules and workload. Commercial drivers (CDL) are the largest at-risk group for sleep-related motor vehicle accidents, and working the night shift, long work schedules and other problems such as sleep apnea can increase the likelihood of a sleep-related trucking accident.
At this time, the government and the trucking industry are working together to compromise on laws that keep truck drivers and others safe on our highways by requiring testing for sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. If the drivers are treated for sleep problems with CPAP Therapy, they are more likely to have better sleep and less likely to endanger passenger vehicles with which they share the roads.
“The rule-making process allows for medical experts, the regulated community, including professional drivers, to provide valuable data and input for the agency to consider in developing its regulations. A formal rule-making will also require an analysis of the benefits and costs of regulating sleep apnea, an analysis not required for the issuance of guidance,” said Bill Graves, CEO of the American Trucking Association. It is clear we all need to work together to keep motorists safe out there and this process has begun and continues.