Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a medical condition that causes disruption of breathing while sleeping. The upper airways collapse frequently, causing breathing to stop and start, often leaving the person fatigued and with excessive daytime drowsiness. If left untreated, OSA can lead to cardiac conditions. A study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports that truck drivers with untreated OSA have a preventable crash rate that is five times higher than truckers without OSA. Drowsy driving causes up to 20 percent of all large-truck crashes.
Opposition from Drivers
Certain trucking companies require drivers with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher to be tested for sleep apnea. A driver who protested and provided a doctor’s note that stated that he didn’t need the test was fired when he refused to comply. The trucker in this case took his employer to court for wrongful termination, alleging his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had been violated, but ended up losing the case. He appealed the Eighth Circuit Court’s decision, but the U.S. Supreme Court had decided not to hear the case, meaning that screening for sleep apnea by trucking companies will continue and likely increase.
Some trucking companies not only screen for OSA, but monitor affected drivers to see if they are complying with treatment. The most common treatment for OSA is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, which keeps airways open during sleep by pumping air through a mask worn over the nose and mouth. The treatment must be used consistently to be effective. For this reason, trucking companies monitor usage of the CPAP machine to ensure drivers with sleep apnea are getting enough sleep, aiming for a 70 percent usage rate. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) says this practice violates federal privacy rules on medical records and personal health information.
OOIDA also disagrees with the practice of sleep apnea testing based on BMI. Additionally, the group denies any link between truck crashes and sleep apnea and states that federal collision data shows that only a small percentage of fatal crashes involving large trucks were due to fatigue.
Regulations for OSA
Currently there are no federal regulations for transportation workers regarding tracking and treating sleep apnea. However, two advisory committees to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have recommended sleep tests for drivers with a BMI of 35 or higher. Thus far, the FMCSA has not acted on the recommendations, as FMCSA regulations do not specifically address sleep apnea. However, the FMCSA regulations state that any medical condition likely to interfere with the ability to drive safely should be treated before the driver can be considered medically qualified to drive.
Columbia Truck Accident Lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. Fight for Victims Injured in Truck Accidents
If you or someone you love has been injured in a truck accident caused by drowsy driving or another form of negligence, we can help you. At Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A., our experienced truck accident lawyers in Columbia will fight to make sure you receive the maximum compensation allowable in your case. Call us today at (803) 929-3600 for a free consultation or contact us online. We have six convenient locations throughout South Carolina to serve you, including but not limited to residents of Columbia, Alken, Camden, Sumter, Orangeburg, Greenville, Florence, Beaufort, Irmo, Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island, West Columbia, Rock Hill, Charleston, Lexington, Winnsboro, and Summerville, South Carolina.