OSA: New Issue for Commercial Truck Accidents

Maryland Sleep Apnea Truck Accident AttorneyTruck crashes involving fatigue are not rare; fatigue or falling asleep are the reasons for 13 percent of large truck crashes. Some estimates indicate that fatigue or falling asleep are contributing factors in a much higher number of accidents. For example, statistics from National Transport Insurance (NTI) show that, together, fatigue and speeding were involved in 42 percent of heavy vehicle crashes. One famous example of this deadly combination is the June 2014 crash that killed comedian James McNair and seriously injured comedian Tracy Morgan and three other passengers. The driver had been awake more than 28 consecutive hours and was driving 65 mph in a 45 mph zone when he hit the limo van in which seven people were traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike.

But there’s a new wrinkle when it comes to truck driver fatigue: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Among commercial drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that over one-fourth of all drivers have some form of OSA:

  • Mild sleep apnea: 17 percent
  • Moderate sleep apnea: 5 percent
  • Severe sleep apnea: 4 percent.

OSA can seriously impact driving performance because it compounds fatigue and sleepiness. For that reason, OSA increases the risk of crashes—and that’s a worrisome, dangerous situation.

What is OSA?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that happens only during sleep, resulting in a reduced or even complete loss of airflow despite the sleeper’s attempts to breathe. During OSA, muscles relax, with the result that the tissues at the back of the throat collapse, blocking the airway.

OSA has a number of causative factors:

  • Excessive weight
  • Asthma
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Being male
  • A family history of OSA.

The usual treatment for OSA is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that is worn whenever the person is trying to sleep. A mask worn over the lower part of the face provides the air flow that keeps the person’s airway open.

Truckers and OSA

Researchers from the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the University of Minnesota—Morris, and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital have determined that truck drivers who have OSA and do not adhere to its treatment have a much higher rate of preventable crashes—five times higher, in fact—than truck drivers who do not have OSA. The findings strongly hint that commercial drivers should be screened for OSA on a regular basis, and, if the diagnosis is positive, should be required to obtain treatment in order to continue driving.

Treatment and Outcome

However, treatment is expensive, especially if health insurance doesn’t pay for it. In cases where drivers had been referred to a sleep study, the costs of testing were paid either partially or fully by over half of the drivers (53 percent). They incurred around $1,220 in out-of-pocket expenses on average, which represents about one and a half weeks’ of median driver pay—a sharp bite out of any budget.

Having only a mild case of OSA appears associated with a reduction in CPAP’s effectiveness: less than one-third experienced better sleep as a result of using CPAP. However, as the severity of a driver’s OSA increased, the more that CPAP produced positive results.

The Harvard study’s lead author, Stephen V. Burks, commented in a release, “The results of our study support the establishment of obstructive sleep apnea screening standards for all drivers through the commercial driver’s medical exam.”

What Is Being Done About This Problem?

When you consider that crashes due to sleep apnea are preventable, and the higher rate of crashes that are prevalent among those with OSA, it is no wonder that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration are both getting involved. On March 8, 2016, both agencies announced “an advance notice of proposed rulemaking,” which means that they would gather facts for 90 days concerning the effects of OSA on truck drivers and on certain railroad workers. After comments are closed, at some point a decision will be made and possibly a new rule will be handed down concerning mandatory testing and treatment for OSA.

How many lives are at risk on our roads because of OSA?
It can only be hoped that testing for the problem will become part of the standard process for obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL), along with mandated treatment for those who are found to have OSA.

Truck Accident? Turn to Steve Heisler, The Injury Lawyer.

If you have been involved in a collision with a large truck, you may be concerned about how you’re going to make ends meet. You may be confused about how to go about seeking compensation from the negligent driver. That’s understandable. Not only are truck accidents likely to be serious due to the size of the vehicles involved, but they are more legally complex and may involve multiple parties, including the driver’s company, truck owner, truck manufacturer and others.

Steve Heisler has been helping injured people in Maryland for more than two decades with all types of vehicular accidents. That means he has won compensation for victims of car accidents, motorcycle wrecks, bicycle accidents, and, yes, truck wrecks. Steve’s thorough investigation will uncover all potential defendants in your case, demanding just compensation for your medical expenses, rehabilitation, loss of income, and pain and suffering. If you lost a loved one because of a big rig driver’s negligence, Steve can help your family recover through a wrongful death lawsuit.

You’d better believe the trucking company and insurer will have a team of lawyers to protect their interests. Call Steve Heisler, The Injury Lawyer, to protect yours. Call (410) 625-4878 for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation, or use our online contact form.