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Why trucking companies must aggressively screen truck drivers for sleep apnea

April 20, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

If 40 percent of Australian truckers have sleep apnea, how many in the U.S. have it, and how many truck accidents are caused by truckers with sleep apnea?

As past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Lawyers Group, I write often about safety issues facing the trucking industry today. This often includes writing about how difficult it is for commercial truck drivers to keep a healthy diet and exercise regimen.

This is serious, and the consequences go far beyond a Dr. Oz program. The problem in this case leads to thousands of preventable truck accidents every year. In Michigan (sadly, one of the fattest states in the nation), obesity can cause sleep apnea, leading to tired truckers who are more likely to cause truck accidents for a whole slew of reasons.

The matter hopefully will take on new urgency after a new sleep study – Assessing Sleepiness and Sleep Disorders in Truck Drivers, published in the Journal SLEEP – found that 41 percent of Australian truck drivers have obstructive sleep apnea. Here’s an article about the study in the Huffington Post: Sleep apnea affects more than 40 percent of truck drivers, Australian study shows.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes a person to stop breathing in periods throughout the night. The disturbed sleep leads to sleepiness during the day.

The study found that although only 4.4 percent of drivers reported a previous diagnosis of sleep apnea, an at-home diagnostic test found that 41 percent of the 517 drivers who participated likely had sleep apnea.

The study also found that 36 percent of drivers were overweight, 50 percent obese an 49 percent were cigarette smokers.

The study says: “Sleep apnea remains a significant and unrecognized problem in CMV (commercial motor vehicle) drivers, who we found to have multiple health risks… Objective testing for this sleep disorder needs to be considered, as symptom reports and self-identification appear insufficient to accurately identify those at risk.”

Our truck accident lawyers couldn’t agree more. With statistics showing that overweight truck drivers account for 13 percent of fatal truck accidents in the U.S. and further studies showing that there are nearly 600,000 commercial truck drivers with dangerous medical conditions (who qualify for full federal disability payments) on the roads today, we need stronger medical testing standards for truck drivers.

Why put unhealthy truck drivers on the road if they are more likely to cause fatal — and preventable — truck crashes?

Although the study focused only on Australian drivers, NPR reported that as much as 30 percent of American drivers are believed to have sleep apnea.

This is going to become a part of truck accident lawsuits, as the decision-making of safety managers in trucking companies is going to become part of the inquiry after a catastrophic trucking injury or death has occurred. I sincerely hope it isn’t just truck lawyers who are paying attention to this issue.

Steven Gursten is head of Michigan Auto Law and one of the top truck attorneys in the country. He is past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Litigation Group, and has received the top-reported jury verdict in Michigan for a truck accident case, according to Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his work to promote national truck safety.

Related information to protect yourself:

“Fat truckers” v. the FMCSA

If truckers were healthier, there might be fewer truck accidents

Truck lawyer tip: The connection between obesity and sleep apnea

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit. Call (800) 777-0028 or to speak with one of our Michigan truck attorneys today.

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