Semi-truck driver fatigue is one of the most common contributors to an accident when the truck driver is at fault. Even when the driver doesn’t fall asleep, fatigue can affect the senses and reflexes of a driver, seriously impairing their ability to react to the road. There have been numerous studies showing that drowsy driving, as it’s called, can as dangerous as driving intoxicated.
To make matters worse, sleep apnea is prevalent in the commercial trucking industry. A recent study found nearly 1 in 3 drivers had some form of sleep apnea – with mild to severe symptoms. The government doesn’t require screening of sleep disorders in truck drivers, a problem that professionals have pointed for years. Most recently, a Harvard study last month concluded if truck drivers were screened for sleep apnea, accidents would be prevented.
There seems to be a stigma in the industry for being diagnosed with sleep apnea. Some drivers may believe a diagnosis would hurt their ability to make a living, or their health insurance – if they have any – would not cover treatment. The accidents prevented far outweigh the cost of treating those with sleep apnea, though. Treatment is relatively cheap, as well – there are numerous devices which can help drivers get the quality sleep they need. I personally suffer from sleep apnea. The normal treatment is the use of a device that is comfortable called a CPAP machine. A travel one costs about $300. I felt like a new man once I started using the machine.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is on its way to requiring truck drivers be screened for sleep apnea. This is certainly a positive step, and can’t be done soon enough. On top of that, there are numerous devices that drivers or trucking companies can put in their trucks to detect and prevent drowsy driving.
In assessing trucking company liability, it’s worth looking into what steps trucking companies have taken to ensure safe driving. While smarter regulations are on the way, it’s what the companies and drivers elect to do right now which tells us how they really feel about safety.