According to a recent study sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), nearly 30% of commercial truck drivers experience mild to severe sleep apnea. Despite how common this condition is in the trucking industry, it comes with serious safety ramifications—minimizing a drivers’ ability to focus on the road and increasing their likelihood of being involved in a crash.
With this in mind, it’s crucial that drivers understand this condition and know how to respond to an onset of symptoms. Review the following guidance for more information on what sleep apnea is, how this condition can impact driving capabilities and steps that should be taken following a sleep apnea diagnosis.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes short pauses in breathing during sleep. Such pauses typically last for at least 10 seconds at a time and can happen up to 400 times each night. If left untreated, this condition can be life-threatening.
Common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include the following:
- Frequent and loud snoring
- Recurring nighttime urination
- Morning nausea and headaches
- Gasping or choking during sleep
- Excessive daytime fatigue
- Increased irritability or sadness
- Difficulties with memory and concentration
Although this condition can affect a wide range of individuals, there are certain factors that can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea. This includes having a family history of the condition, being over the age of 40, smoking, consuming alcohol, having a small upper airway and being overweight.
How Sleep Apnea Impacts Driving
If left untreated, sleep apnea can impact the ability to stay awake, alert and focused during the day—all of which could hinder driving performance. What’s more, several studies have found that individuals with untreated sleep apnea have an elevated risk of being involved in a fatigue-related crash. In other words, ignoring the signs of sleep apnea can threaten the safety of the driver and others on the road.
What to Do If a Driver Experiences Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
With symptoms of sleep apnea, it's important to reach out to a doctor right away. From there, a doctor may order a sleep test at a sleep facility. Following a confirmed diagnosis, a doctor could provide a variety of treatment options—the most common being the use of a breathing assistance device at night and (if applicable) lifestyle changes (e.g., physical exercises and dietary restrictions to promote weight loss).
Because sleep apnea can impact a driver's performance and create additional safety hazards behind the wheel, it’s important to inform Barrow Group of the diagnosis. According to the FMCSA, individuals with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any condition that could interfere with their ability to drive safely are not medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle. That being said, a diagnosis may temporarily restrict a driver from being able to drive.
However, the FMCSA confirms that once an individual’s clinical diagnosis has been successfully treated, they can regain their “medically qualified to drive” status. This means that the driver will need to work with their doctor, the medical examiner responsible for determining their physical fitness to drive and the supervisor to establish an effective treatment plan for sleep apnea and be able to safely drive for the organization again.
Keep in mind that additional state and local regulations may apply to the situation based on the location of driving operations.
Let us Know
If you have any additional concerns about driver safety, consult Barrow Group, we put your safety first!