Nearly one third of drivers in the trucking industry suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can greatly reduce the quality of sleep drivers get, and can threaten respiratory functions as well as alertness and motor skills. In the move to make the industry safer, some trucking companies are using mandatory sleep apnea screening, and there is a debate as to whether sleep apnea screening should be mandatory as part of the DOT physical. However, sleep apnea screening is unsettling a number of drivers throughout the country.
Sleep Apnea Screening isn’t Cheap
The National Transportation Research Institute reported that truck drivers paid an average of $1200 out-of-pocket for sleep apnea screening. The tests are not cheap by any means, but they are not covered by a number of insurance companies, either.
Many Truckers Oppose Sleep Apnea Screening
Truckers are not the only people who suffer from sleep apnea. Millions of people in the United States are living with the condition, and many drive with mandatory screening. Simply because a truck is a bigger vehicle does not mean the roads are any safer from a fatigued car driver causing a massive accident. In fact, most truck-related accidents are caused by other drivers. Holding truckers accountable for unpredictable behavior by car drivers is not going to help the problem. Additionally, sleep apnea is not standardized. Fatigue following a sleep cycle cannot be accurately measured. A trucker can be completely functional with sleep apnea, while another could simply fall asleep at the wheel. Sleep Apnea screening can tell whether or not someone has the condition, but how it affects a person is not quantifiable, as of yet.
The National Transportation Safety Board
Just going by the statistics released by the National Transportation Safety Board, sleep apnea cannot be singled out as the primary cause for accidents. Since 2000, there have been a total of 13 highway and rail accidents linked to sleep apnea, resulting in 50 deaths and 373 injuries. While no one would want accidents of any kind in an ideal world, but the number is still relatively low for sleep apnea to become a major concern for the freight industry.
Part of the reason for the focus on obstructive sleep if tied to the stigma of the “tired truck driver.” Truckers are fatigued by long hauls, and they are overweight due to bad diets and smoking. These are stereotypes and not representative of the whole trucking community. Since the ELD mandate restricts the number of service hours for truckers, the statistics for fatigue-related accidents should, in theory, go down, without having to further penalize drivers with mandatory screening for sleep apnea.