It is a sad fact that truck accidents on U.S. roads are far too common. Accidents involving large trucks kill more than 4,000 people per year – almost always occupants of smaller vehicles. And while there are numerous preventable causes of truck crashes, one of the most common is drowsy/fatigued driving.
Why are truck drivers so tired all the time? The easy-to-identify reasons include:
- Long hours spent behind the wheel
- Shift work that has drivers sleeping and driving on a rotating schedule, making it impossible to develop a healthy sleep-wake cycle
- A sedentary lifestyle that often leads to weight gain and other health problems
- The delivery demands of employers and a compensation system that only pays for time spent driving (which disincentivizes rest breaks)
- Overreliance on caffeine and (in some cases) illegal drugs that can strongly disturb or disrupt sleep
There is one other problem that is well understood within the trucking industry but not otherwise commonly known. As a group, truck drivers have far higher rates of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) than the general public, leading to dangerous levels of fatigue during waking hours.
What is obstructive sleep apnea?
When we sleep, the muscles in our airways relax, sometimes causing the soft tissues to collapse and restrict air movement. In mild cases, this produces snoring. In more extreme cases, it leads to obstructive sleep apnea. Rather than simply leading to a noisy intake of air, OSA results in breathing interruptions, sometimes lasting 10 seconds or more. This can occur dozens or hundreds of times per night.
Sleep apnea results in terrible quality sleep. During waking hours, someone with OSA is constantly drowsy and fatigued (as though they hadn’t slept at all). In addition to drowsiness, which is very dangerous in truck drivers, OSA can also lead to heart disease, diabetes and other serious health issues.
Much more common in truck drivers
Among men in the general public, it is estimated that between 3 and 7 percent have obstructive sleep apnea (with lower rates for women). Among truck drivers, the estimated rates of OSA are between 17 and 28 percent. OSA is so common among truck drivers due to some of the same factors cited above: weight gain, sedentary lifestyle and poor diet.
Truck accident risks greatly increased by CSA
According to government data cited by the American Sleep Association, it is believed that drowsy/fatigued driving is responsible for 7 to 20 percent of all truck accidents (with OSA being the most frequent cause of drowsiness/fatigue). Many truck drivers either don’t know they suffer from sleep apnea or simply refuse to take reasonable steps to treat it.
What to do if you’ve been injured
If you have been seriously injured in a truck accident that may have been caused by drowsy driving, an attorney can help you investigate whether the driver suffers from untreated OSA. From there, you can discuss your legal options, including a personal injury lawsuit.