Sleep Apnea and Truck Drivers

Sleep Apnea and Tractor Trailer Drivers? 

Sleep apnea is the name given to a disorder characterized by persistently poor sleep at night due to shallow breathing and frequent wake-ups, which can occur as many as 30 times an hour. Since the state of normal deep sleep is not achieved, the sufferer seldom gets a restful night of sleep, and consequently experiences frequent periods of drowsiness during the day. The most common form of this disorder is known as obstructive sleep apnea, and it occurs when a person’s airway becomes blocked while sleeping, which then triggers the shallow breathing or pauses in breathing.

Sleep apnea and truckers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA), sponsored a study at the University of Pennsylvania, in which it was determined that approximately 28% of all commercial truckers on the road were suffering from sleep apnea. Cases ranged from mild to severe in this sampling, and the vehicle operators reported varying degrees of difficulty with concentration, focusing their eyes, staying alert to traffic conditions, and even staying awake while driving. While none of the drivers reported actually falling asleep, it is known that accidents frequently occur simply as a result of reduced alertness or slowed reactions.

Can truckers with sleep apnea drive legally?

FMCSA regulations specify that any driver with a medical condition which might interfere with their ability to safely operate a commercial vehicle is ineligible to drive professionally. To be legally disqualified from driving, a trucker must be diagnosed with a moderate to severe case of sleep apnea. However, this assumes that the driver has been diagnosed with a medical condition such as sleep apnea in the first place, and there are undoubtedly a great many drivers on the road who have never been diagnosed by a medical professional.

If a driver has been diagnosed with sleep apnea by a competent physician, is being treated for that condition, and has been declared medically fit for driving, there are no further prohibitions against driving, at least from a medical standpoint. It should be understood however, that every state imposes its own standards for clearance in cases involving medical conditions in commercial drivers.

Legal obligations of a trucking company

Any trucking company or motor carrier organization is prohibited from requiring or allowing a driver to operate one of its vehicles when that driver has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and has not been medically cleared for work. This of course includes any medical condition whatsoever which might interfere with the driver’s ability to safely operate the vehicle, and potentially cause themselves harm or harm others.

There are times of course, when urgent business requirements supersede safe practices for some companies, and drivers may be sent out on the road without proper medical clearance, or even without the condition being diagnosed at all. These are situations which take on legal implications, because there is a factor involved of willful violation of safety protocols involving commercial vehicles.

Such scenarios can easily lead to truckers dozing for short periods or experiencing momentary loss of alertness, and when that happens, a tractor-trailer can be converted into a weapon weighing several tons, traveling at dangerous speeds. The National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) has estimated that more than 100,000 accidents in this country are annually attributable to commercial truck drivers dozing off on the road, causing 1,500 fatalities and another 40,000 injuries to individuals involved.

Have you been victimized by a drowsy truck driver in West Virginia?

The firm of Bailey Javins and Carter of Charleston, WV, has represented numerous individuals and families of individuals who have been victimized by truckers urged to drive longer hours than are safe, and from drivers not medically cleared for their conditions. Cases which involve driving fatigue of some kind can often have devastating consequences, due to the nature of large commercial vehicles traveling at high speed. There are accordingly some very strict federal regulations governing such vehicle operation, especially when it relates to driving long hours.

Regardless of the reason for an operator driving while fatigued, there is no legal justification for it, and if it causes an accident involving you or your family on the road, there is a high likelihood that you will be entitled to compensation. Contact Bailey Javins and Carter for a consultation about your case, and allow us to put our years of experience to work on your behalf. The experienced truck accident attorneys at Bailey Javins & Carter have helped many others recover from traumatic road accidents with commercial vehicles, and we are prepared to assist you with getting your life back in order as well.  Contact the firm at (800) 497-0234.