According to a study sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), nearly 30% of commercial truck drivers experience mild to severe sleep apnea. Despite how common this condition is in the trucking industry, it comes with serious safety ramifications—minimizing drivers’ ability to focus on the road and increasing their likelihood of being involved in a crash.
With this in mind, it’s crucial that drivers understand this condition and know how to respond to an onset of symptoms. Review the following guidance for more information on what sleep apnea is, how this condition can impact driving capabilities and steps that you should take following a sleep apnea diagnosis.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes short pauses in your breathing as you sleep. Such pauses typically last for at least 10 seconds at a time and can happen up to 400 times each night. If left untreated, this condition can be life-threatening.
Common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include the following:
- Frequent and loud snoring
- Recurring nighttime urination
- Morning nausea and headaches
- Gasping or choking during sleep
- Excessive daytime fatigue
- Increased irritability or sadness
- Difficulties with memory and concentration
Although this condition can affect a wide range of individuals, there are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing sleep apnea. This includes having a family history of the condition, being over the age of 40, smoking, consuming alcohol, having a small upper airway and being overweight.
How Sleep Apnea Impacts Your Driving
If left untreated, sleep apnea can impact your ability to stay awake, alert and focused during the day—all of which could hinder your driving performance. What’s more, several studies have found that individuals who remain untreated have an elevated risk of being involved in a fatigue-related crash. In other words, ignoring the signs can threaten the safety of both you and others on the road.
What to Do if You Have Sleep Apnea
If you start experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, reach out to your doctor right away. From there, your doctor may send you to a sleep center for testing. Following a confirmed diagnosis, your doctor could provide a variety of treatment options—the most common being the use of a breathing assistance device at night and (if applicable) lifestyle changes (e.g., physical exercises and dietary restrictions to promote weight loss).
Because sleep apnea can impact your driving performance and create additional safety hazards behind the wheel, it’s important to inform your employer of your diagnosis. According to the FMCSA, individuals with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any condition that could interfere with their ability to drive safely are not medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle. That being said, your diagnosis may temporarily restrict you from being able to drive.
Sleep apnea and any other vehicle or hours-of-service violation could create a deadly combination. To see the most common violations the CVSA found in its 2021 International Roadcheck, click here.
However, the FMCSA confirms that once an individual’s clinical diagnosis has been successfully treated, they can regain their “medically qualified to drive” status. This means that you will need to work with your doctor, the medical examiner responsible for determining your physical fitness to drive and your supervisor to establish an effective treatment plan and be able to safely drive once again.
Keep in mind that additional state and local regulations may apply to your situation based on the location of your driving operations.
If you have any additional concerns about driver safety, be sure to consult your supervisor or contact us below for more information. To stay up-to-date on industry news and tips, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on LinkedIn.