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Could sleep apnea be putting dangerous drivers in trucks?

New research, partially funded by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), indicates that almost one-third of the nation's truckers are suffering from sleep deprivation due to sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes victims to stop breathing periodically while they sleep. It leads to daytime drowsiness, slowed reaction times and trouble focusing one's vision, among other serious complications.

This is a huge safety issue for anybody who is on the roads -- whether they're a trucker or not. Untreated or poorly-controlled sleep apnea can be virtually debilitating. It certainly doesn't leave its victim in any shape to be driving for a living. Drowsy driving is thought to be the cause of around 328,000 crashes every year and at least 6,400 deaths.

Sleep apnea is such a common problem among those who drive for a living -- perhaps because the sedentary nature of their work leads to weight gain and the fact that truck drivers are an aging population in general, both of which are risk factors for the disorder -- that the federal government may soon require testing for all truckers, railway workers and bus drivers.

The Department of Transportation is fully behind the proposed rule, as is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration. For its part, FMCSA already recommends that all commercial drivers be screened for sleep apnea -- even though it lacks the authority to enforce the recommendation.

What can you do to avoid being in an accident with a sleep-deprived trucker? Watch out when you are on the road for trucks that seem to be having trouble driving straight. Even if the truck is staying in its own lane (for now), weaving back and forth is an indicator of drowsiness. If the truck starts hitting the rumble strip at the side of the road, steer clear and consider calling the highway patrol or the trucking company's phone number if it is visible on the back of the truck to alert them to a potential problem.

If you are in an accident with a truck driver that you suspect was nearly asleep behind the wheel, contact an attorney. Your attorney may be able to prove that the driver was negligent for being on the road while so fatigued. His or her employer may also be partially responsible for not screening employees better for this dangerous condition.

Source: FMCSA, "Driving When You Have Sleep Apnea," accessed June 23, 2017

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