Truck Driver Fatigue, Sleep Apnea, and Catastrophic Truck Accidents

The number of truck accidents caused by truck driver fatigue continues to increase each year. Many of the cases our Virginia Beach truck accident attorneys handle involve truck driver fatigue. Multiple studies have found that many truck drivers also suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea among truck drivers is a significant concern due to its potential impact on driver safety and the risk of accidents.

A person suffering from sleep apnea typically has pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while they are sleeping. These pauses can last up to one minute. In one hour, these pauses can occur up to 30 times. With each pause, a person in a deep sleep shifts into a light sleep. This continual sleep interruption leaves them exhausted the next day because they are not getting a good night’s sleep. Estimates are that there are more than 25 million people who suffer from the chronic disorder.

Due to disrupted sleep patterns, individuals with sleep apnea often experience excessive daytime sleepiness. This can impair alertness, reaction times, and decision-making abilities, which are crucial for safe driving.

Sleep apnea can also lead to microsleep episodes—brief moments of unintentional sleep lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes. These episodes can occur without warning, even while driving, increasing the risk of accidents.

Multiple studies have shown that people with untreated sleep apnea are at higher risk of motor vehicle accidents, including truck drivers. The impaired cognitive function and reduced alertness associated with sleep apnea can contribute to poor driving performance and increased likelihood of crashes.

Truck Driver Sleep Apnea Study

In one study conducted by researchers from the Virginia Technical Institute, it was concluded that tractor-trailer drivers who suffer from sleep apnea and fail to follow a treatment program are five times more likely to be involved in a serious truck accident.

More than 3,200 truck drivers participated in the study. All of the drivers had similar job experience and approximately the same length of time they had worked as truck drivers. Half of the participants suffered from sleep apnea, and the other half did not.

One of the most common treatment methods for sleep apnea is positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy. Auto-adjusting machines blow streams of air through a mask the sufferer wears while sleeping. The drivers in the study who suffered from sleep apnea were given an auto-adjusting machine that they could use both on the road and at home. The machines contained an internal memory chip, which enabled researchers to download data to see if the driver assigned to the machine was complying with the recommended treatment.

Participants who failed to follow the PAP therapy program were either fired or quit voluntarily. However, the researchers pointed out that under current federal regulations, truck drivers are not required to disclose a diagnosis of sleep apnea, which allows them to work for a new trucking company if they are dismissed from another one.

The study’s results revealed that in one year, 1,000 truck drivers suffering from sleep apnea who refused to follow treatment would have 70 preventable serious tractor-trailer accidents. In contrast, drivers who followed treatment or did not suffer from sleep apnea would only have 14 preventable truck accidents in that same period.

Call Our Personal Injury Law Firm

If you have been injured in a truck accident, contact an experienced Virginia Beach truck accident attorney to find out what legal recourse you may have against the party or parties responsible for the crash. Truck accident claims can be more complex than other types of vehicle accidents because there are often multiple at-fault parties that are responsible for the financial damages victims may be entitled to. Our accident attorneys have extensive legal experience helping truck accident victims get the compensation they deserve, like the $350,000 truck accident insurance settlement we obtained for one client who suffered a fractured kneecap that required multiple surgeries and rehabilitation.

Contact Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp to schedule a free case evaluation and find out how we can help.