Truck Driver yawning while driving

How Does Sleep Apnea Cause Truck Accidents?

Sleep apnea is one of more than 80 sleep disorders that can actually be life-threatening. It occurs when an individual repeatedly stops and starts breathing again throughout the night and can affect their ability to obtain an adequate night of sleep.

While this disorder affects about 4% of the general population, a study sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations found that about 28% of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Facts

Three Different Types of Sleep Apnea

There are actually three different types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This occurs when throat muscles and the mouth palate relax during sleep, blocking the airway.
  • Central Sleep Apnea. This occurs when the brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

  • Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome. This is when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Risk Factors

Anyone can be affected by sleep apnea, but some individuals may be more at risk of developing it. According to the Mayo Clinic, factors that may increase the odds of developing sleep apnea include:

  • Excess weight
  • Neck circumference

  • A narrowed airway

  • Being male

  • Being older

  • Family history

  • Use of alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers

  • Smoking

  • Nasal congestion

Truck Drivers and Sleep Apnea

The most common form of sleep apnea for truckers is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA); each pause in breathing can last up to 10 seconds and occur up to 400 times during the sleep period. This disorder results in fragmented and interrupted sleep, which impacts their ability to obtain a restorative night of sleep and stay vigilant while behind the wheel when they get up.

This means truck drivers can get a full 10 hours of sleep but actually get very little quality sleep and rest due to the constant interruption to breathing. One of the main symptoms that can occur is drowsiness, which can increase the risk of accidents by as much as 250% compared to well-rested drivers.

The good news is that sleep apnea can be treated. Truck drivers, however, should not drive if the condition interferes with their ability to drive.

Injured in a Commercial Truck Accident?

If you were injured in a trucking accident, turn to the Fairfax and D.C. truck accident attorneys at Shevlin Smith to get legal advocates on your side. Different parties may be responsible for these types of accidents, including the truck driver, trucking company, cargo loader, or parts manufacturer.

We will utilize our resources, knowledge, and skills to identify liable parties and fight hard for your full financial recovery.


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