Not long ago, I was driving on I-95, heading northbound. I was on my way home after a trip to Florida. As I drove along in the right lane, an 18 wheeler drove up beside me on the left and came over in my lane, driving me off the road and onto the shoulder of the highway. I was terrified. Luckily, I was not injured.
When this happened, my assumption was that the driver might have been distracted or sleepy. It never occurred to me that they might actually have an untreated medical condition, such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
OSA happens when something blocks the upper airway during sleep. Because the body has to work harder to open the airway and pull air into the lungs, people with this disorder may not sleep well. Symptoms include daytime fatigue, headaches and trouble concentrating, to name a few.
OSA is among the most common causes of excessive drowsiness or fatigue in the daytime and approximately 25% of all commercial motor vehicle drivers in the United States are estimated to possess mild or higher levels of OSA. Researchers found that for every 1,000 truck drivers, the drivers with obstructive sleep apnea who refuse treatment would have 70 preventable serious truck crashes in a given year as compared to 14 crashes experienced by both a control group and by drivers with sleep apnea who adhered to treatment.
Given the severity of the problem and the liability involved, it comes as no surprise that some trucking firms have internal mandated treatment programs for drivers with OSA. Unfortunately, if a driver refuses to participate in treatment, they can simply move on to another trucking firm that does not require treatment because current federal regulations allow drivers to keep their diagnosis private.
Should these regulations change?
Here is an article that summarizes the findings of the study.