Crashes Caused by Tired Truck Drivers

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Tired truckers are dangerous truckers.  Unfortunately, new research shows that nearly half of commercial truck drivers today may suffer from a medical condition that repeatedly robs them of a good night’s sleep.

On January 11 the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, one of the nation’s leading research organizations on transportation safety, gave a preliminary report on its most recent study on truckers with sleep apnea to the Transportation Research Board.  The Transportation Research Board is a 100-year-old federal agency devoted to improving all aspects of the nation’s transportation.

VTTI’s research included 20,000 commercial truck drivers. The study found that 49% of the over-the-road haulers were at risk for having sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a chronic medical condition that disturbs breathing, making sleeping difficult.  The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  This condition relaxes the throat, nearly closing the airway and stopping breathing momentarily.  Those with OSA suffer these stop-and-start breathing periods constantly, interrupting sleep numerous times a night.

This sleep disorder leaves a person very tired the next day, which makes truckers who have OSA potentially so dangerous.

Dangerous Actions by Truckers that Cause Crashes

In 2006 the federal government published the most comprehensive study on serious commercial truck accidents to date (“Large Truck Causation Study”). Some of the common causes for big-rig crashes uncovered by the research were:

  • Truck driver traveling too fast for conditions
  • Aggressive truck driver behavior
  • Shifting truck cargo
  • Illegal drug use by truck driver

That report also found that 13% of tractor-trailer crashes involved a fatigued truck driver. Other studies since have placed that percentage even higher.

In the new VTTI study, researchers initially determined that 6% of the truckers had OSA, while 86% did not.  The remaining 8% of truckers had previously been diagnosed with the sleep disorder.

The researchers then screened the truckers again using a more rigid test, known as the STOP-Bang assessment. This measures a number of likely indicators of OSA, including:

  • Snoring
  • Tiredness
  • Hypertension
  • Body Mass index
  • Neck circumference
  • Gender

Based on these indicators, the researchers concluded nearly 9,400 truckers – almost half - potentially had OSA.

Tired Commercial Truck Drivers Who Have Sleep Apnea

Being overweight puts one at risk for this sleep-depriving condition.  And many over-the-road truckers get little exercise and many lack healthy eating habits leading to obesity.

Last June the U.S. Department of Transportation issued the findings of a study (“Commercial Driver Safety Factors”) that explored the medical conditions of truck drivers.  That study determined that semi-truck drivers were nearly twice as likely to be overweight as the general population, and that factor alone increased the risk for commercial truck crashes.

That same study found that truckers whose OSA was being treated were less likely to crash than drivers whose OSA went untreated.

That would indicate the dire responsibility of trucking companies to monitor their drivers for this dangerous health condition, and when diagnosed to make sure they receive the proper treatment.

The federal government does not currently mandate specific OSA testing for truckers, but truckers are required to pass a medical examination for a new or renewed commercial driver’s license. OSA screening should be a part of that exam.

The federal government has issued Hours of Service Rules that are designed to keep dangerously fatigued truck drivers off the road. The rules dictate how many hours a day and week a trucker can legally be behind the wheel, and include mandated rest periods. Truckers are required to keep track of their hours in electronic logs.

But those rules don’t account for overly tired truck drivers due to OSA.  They may be adhering to the federal regulations yet still pose a deadly threat to others on the road as they are dangerously sleepy while driving during the day.

If you were seriously hurt or if you lost a loved one in a crash with a commercial truck, speak with a personal injury attorney, who can investigate to identify the negligent acts that caused it and pursue legal remedies on your behalf.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles February 12, 2021

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