For years, snoring was commonly viewed as a harmless, albeit annoying, sound that people make when they sleep.
It turns out that, while the sound itself is just that – a sound – it is often symptomatic of a far more serious condition called sleep apnea. A person who suffers from sleep apnea experiences brief interruptions in breathing as they sleep. These pauses that can last 10 seconds or longer, can occur up to 400 times in one night, and can leave a sufferer excessively drowsy throughout the day.
It’s a danger for a sleep apnea sufferer to operate any vehicle, even if that vehicle were as small as a Geo Prizm. But give the condition to a truck driver who is operating an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer and cruising 55 miles an hour on a busy interstate. The results can be catastrophic.
Those realities make a recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations even more alarming. According to the study, a remarkable 28 percent of commercial truck drivers suffer mild to severe sleep apnea.
While sleep apnea does not play a role in every truck accident that involves fatigued driving, it certainly makes the problem more prevalent. Sleep apnea sufferers experience diminished alertness, an inability to concentrate, and slower reaction times. I’ve tried countless cases that centered on a fatigued truck driver who was at fault in an accident, and I’ve seen firsthand the damage and suffering that fatigued driving can have on innocent motorists.
And that’s why I support recent efforts to make annual Obstructive Sleep Apnea screenings mandatory for all drivers of tractor-trailers, semi-trucks and other large commercial vehicles. It is not a push to get truck drivers off the road. Sleep apnea, after all, is a usually a treatable condition, and once treated, a sufferer enjoys lifelong health benefits. The effort is a push to improve the health and safety of everybody, beginning with the truck driver.
Michael Leizerman is a nationally respected truck accident attorney. To speak to Michael about an injury you or a family member has suffered, call 419-243-1010.