Sleep Apnea and Massachusetts Truckers: Don’t Fall Asleep At the Wheel

Sleep apnea, at its simplest, occurs when we stop breathing during sleep. It is caused by the narrowing or closure of the upper airway during sleep. This leads to a fitful night's sleep and drowsiness during the day. This sometimes occurs with the congestion caused by a cold. Others suffer a chronic variant of sleep apnea that does not go away.

While inconvenient when we are suffering from a cold, for those who suffer with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) on a regular basis, it can be life threatening. If the person suffering with OSA also happens to be a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver on Massachusetts' roads, it becomes a deadly threat to all drivers and can result in horrific truck accidents.

A study has shown that 28 percent of CMV drivers have varying degrees of sleep apnea. In addition, the effect on driving can be significant, as one study found those drivers with sleep apnea performed worse than drivers with blood alcohol content measurements that would have made them legally drunk.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says of those with OSA, "They are frequently entirely unaware of the condition. Individuals with the disorder may have extreme daytime sleepiness and often fall asleep within minutes in a quiet or monotonous environment." Highways, unfortunately, can present a driver with an exceeding monotonous environment.

State and Federal Regulation

Many states recognize the danger of having drivers who may be unreasonably drowsy on the highway. Massachusetts requires all CMV drivers to have a DOT medical certificate, and to obtain a certificate the driver must be free "of a respiratory dysfunction" that would interfere with one's ability to drive.

And the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) notes tersely that, "a motor carrier may not require or permit a driver to operate a CMV if the driver has a condition, including sleep apnea that would affect his or her ability to safely operate the vehicle."

The NTSB wrote in a Safety Recommendation letter to the FMCSA that OSA "demonstrably leads to an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents and cognitive impairment and substantially increases the likelihood of both critical errors and of actually falling asleep while driving."

If you or a loved one has been injured by a truck driver suffering from sleep apnea, or if the truck driver was simply negligent, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in your area today to be advised of your rights and options.