Sleep Problems Enhance Danger for Truck Drivers

Motorists on Illinois highways must coexist with large truck traffic and rely on the skills of these commercial vehicle drivers to help keep the roads safe for everyone. Trucks have a significant impact on our nation's highway safety records, with 5,000 people killed and nearly 150,000 more injured in truck crashes every year. In one year, 13 percent of deaths in passenger vehicles were due to large truck collisions, while large trucks amounted to just three percent of the registered vehicles on the road, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

A growing concern is the effect of fatigue on truck drivers. The NHTSA has estimated that driver fatigue contributes to 30 to 40 percent of all large truck accidents. Statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration indicate that accidents involving fatigued commercial vehicle drivers take over 750 lives and hurt an additional 20,000 people annually.

When drivers work long stretches, the risks increase. FMCSA research shows that the risk of getting into a truck accident doubles between the eighth to the tenth hour of driving, and then doubles again between the tenth and the eleventh hour a driver spends behind the wheel.

Besides the dangers of fatigue while driving, putting in too many hours behind the wheel has effects that last after a driving shift is done. Drivers who work too long are less able to get restful sleep when they do have time off-duty.

In a recent medical study, 41 percent of the commercial vehicle drivers tested were found to have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition in which shallow breathing episodes or breathing pauses disrupt sleep. People with this condition tend to get sleepy during the daytime, which could be dangerous while driving. Only 4.4 percent of the drivers in the study had previously been diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Truck drivers who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea tend to understate its effects, according to preliminary reports from another study. Researchers worked with a group of truck drivers and non-truck drivers, determining how many sleep interruptions occurred during the night and the number and severity of episodes of daytime drowsiness. Even though they reported the same number of sleep interruptions, based on their reports of sleepiness, truck drivers received an average sleepiness score of 8.1, compared to a score of 11.0 for the others in the study group.

Failing to report sleepiness might be due to truck drivers' perception that they could lose their jobs if they have trouble staying awake. Nevertheless, with the safety of others on the road on the line, it would be best for drivers to get the restorative sleep they need. Treatment for sleep apnea was helpful to the study participants, but drivers still tended to under-report sleepiness.

Anyone who is injured in an accident due to someone's negligence, which could be due to inadequate sleep, needs capable legal representation. Compensation is available through the legal system for medical costs, lost wages and pain and suffering.