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Fatigued drivers and sleep apnea

North Carolina residents may be surprised to hear that approximately 28 percent of commercial truck drivers are afflicted with mild to severe sleep apnea according to a study sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. This finding magnifies the dangers posed by fatigued drivers.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where the person has brief disruptions of breathing during sleep. These interruptions can last at least 10 seconds and take place at least 400 times per night. This disorder is often undiagnosed and can have serious and potentially life-threatening consequences.

High risk factors include a family history of sleep apnea, being overweight, large neck size, smoking and alcohol use, being over 40-years-old and ethnicity. Loud snoring, headaches and nausea in the morning, loss of sex drive, excessive sleepiness during the day, irritability, depression, disturbed sleep problems with memory and concentration, and frequent urination at night are among its symptoms.

Sleep apnea not only impacts sleep but disrupts daytime awareness and performance. If untreated, sleep apnea multiplies the risk of having a fatigue-related vehicle accident. This is because this condition hampers the driver's ability to remain awake, keep vision focused and to react quickly while driving.

Sleep apnea patients often claim that they never fall asleep while operating a vehicle. However, inattentiveness or diminished alertness can cause a fatigue-related truck crash even if the driver does not fall asleep.

Drivers can still operate a truck even if they have sleep apnea. FMCSA regulations do not directly cover sleep apnea, but impose requirements for a driver who has a medical history or diagnosis of a condition that is likely to impede their ability to drive safely. Sleep apnea is disqualifying when it is moderate to severe and impedes the driver's to safely drive.

A truck company or carrier may not require or allow a driver with conditions such as sleep apnea to operate a commercial vehicle that limit their ability to safely drive a vehicle. These drivers are not medically authorized to driver a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce. However, these drivers may recover their medically-authorized to drive status if they receive and comply with appropriate medical treatment.

Victims of a trucking accident caused by a fatigued driver may face serious injuries and need long-term medical treatment. They may want seek legal assistance to pursue compensation and hold the appropriate parties responsible for their actions.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, "Driving when you have sleep apnea," Accessed June 18, 2017

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