According to the CDC, 70 million Americans suffer from some sort of sleep-related disorder. Roughly 80 sleep disorders have been noted and the most common amongst truck drivers is obstructed sleep apnea.
OSA is the most widespread sleep disorder in truck drivers according to Rodolfo Giacoman, fatigue management program specialist for Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
Bob Stanton is a retired truck driver with over 20 years of experience.
Stanton told CVSA, “I honestly thought the only way to drive the night shift was drive a half hour, take a power nap, drive a half hour, take a power nap.”
“Luckily, I got tested and treated before carrier-based programs were the norm,” Stanton exclaimed. “A lot of the problems I encountered early in my sleep apnea journey have been solved both with technology and carrier-based programs.”
According to Stanton, 26-30% of drivers have OSA, while only 5-15% actually receive treatment for it.
Other Sleep Disorders
- Abnormal Circadian Rhythm
- Sleep Walking
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
EDS, or Excessive Daytime Sleepiness, is very common and dangerous for truck drivers. EDS can result in the following:
- Exponential decline in cognitive functionality
- Decreased reaction times
- Impaired driving performance
- Increased probability of fatal crashes
- Falling asleep at the wheel
In 2015, FMCSA removed its medical examiner’s handbook from the internet, leaving many medical professionals to use their own practices.
“The handbook should acknowledge that examiners should not overrule personal medical physicians,” the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association wrote.
“The handbook should stress the importance of examiners accepting the medical judgment of a driver’s personal physician. Too often, certified medical examiners ignore personal physicians’ judgments and deny medical cards to drivers.”
Transportation Topics reached out to about 70 truck drivers for comment on their concerns surrounding how their health is treated.
Driver William Caulfield expressed to Transportation Topics that health regulations are attempts to push older drivers out of the industry. “Once again [you’re] pushing more drivers (older, more experienced) out the door again.”
Daniel Hochleutner believes all these regulations are simply too much and to, “leave truck drivers alone.”
“Every time I turn around they’re changing the rules. Stop messing with regulations. Leave truck drivers alone,” wrote Hochleutner to Transportation Topics.
Even the American Trucking Association had some comments on the matter. “ATA recognizes the continued interest in obstructive sleep apnea as a safety concern.”
“While [federal regulations] have specific criteria related to driver medical issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and hypertension, these medical issues are typically known at the time of the exam. With regard to OSA, a medical examiner may suspect OSA, and therefore, require a driver submit to a sleep test before continuing with the certification process. While guidance may help in these situations, our experience is that it leads to more confusion regarding what is and what is not required by the medical examiner.
“While the steps taken by FMCSA’s Medical Advisory Board to address this are greatly appreciated, we fear that revisions contained in the draft handbook continue to represent guidance and not regulation that will ultimately lead to an uneven approach with regard to screening for OSA.”
“Should FMCSA choose to prescribe OSA screening and treatment guidance or regulations, FMCSA must do so through the rulemaking process. This is not just the opinion of ATA but required by law. ATA feels the current draft allows for too much discretion and will further facilitate inconsistent commercial motor vehicle medical examinations.”
The Truckload Carriers Association also gave comments to Transportation Topics.
“The development of any future regulation on establishing objective standards for sleep disorder screening, testing and treatment should be focused on conditions that pose a substantially elevated crash risk based on sound data and analysis, be cost-beneficial, and promote effective treatments that minimize the impact to motor carriers and drivers,” TCA wrote.
“TCA maintains that any rulemaking efforts in this regard should only be done so with substantial, coordinated input from key industry stakeholders.”
“There are far too many instances where truck drivers are required to undergo screenings based on sole risk indicators, such as age, body mass index or neck size, when other comorbidity factors must be considered,” said Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
Finally, The Alliance of Sleep Apnea Partners said the FMCSA handbook needs to be provided to medical examiners and outline clear guidelines on medical procedures.
“These recommendations are specific and provide clear guidance, and FMCSA should encourage the medical examiners to review these recommendations upfront prior to making any decisions on certifications,” the Alliance wrote.
Sleep disorders in truckers are not something new and are not something that will get solved overnight. Thankfully, we are not alone in this fight, there are many powerful organizations and coalitions that are backing this cause. For more health and wellness stories like this, consider subscribing to our newsletter.
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