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Sleep apnea findings concerning: Truck industry wake-up call?

Clearly, no one will doze off when hearing the conclusions of a group of university researchers examining sleep apnea in the commercial trucking industry.

Falling asleep is one thing when it pertains to, say, an office worker who can’t quite keep his or her head up in the cubicle for a few moments on a given afternoon. It is something else altogether when the head bobbing up and down is attached to a driver of an 18-wheel rig that is tooling down a busy interstate in California or elsewhere at 70 miles per hour.

Driver fatigue is a problem on American roadways whatever the source and regardless of the type of vehicle that a tired motorist is driving. It is clearly a more outsized and immediately dangerous concern, though, when a drowsy driver is behind the wheel of a tractor trailer as opposed to a passenger car.

And when that motorist has a history of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and refuses to follow the treatment prescribed for alleviating its effects.

Reportedly, that treatment in many instances is so-called “positive airway pressure therapy,” which is the technical way of simply noting a machine that supplies air to a sleeping user through a mask. By all indications, the therapy works. That is, when a user properly follows a prescribed treatment course, adverse apnea symptoms — including daytime drowsiness — are better controlled.

When the treatment is shunned, though (that is, not followed through with at all), the repercussions are stark, indeed.

In fact, they can be catastrophic. In a study conducted by the above-cited researchers, findings revealed that truckers following their treatment program had a serious crash rate about equal to that of their peers not being treated for OSA. When they ignored the treatment, though, their crash rate increased by a multiple of five when compared with that of apnea-free drivers.

Clearly, safety regulators need to be paying attention to that and demanding that trucking firms exercise close oversight of drivers with sleep apnea, insisting that they meticulously follow prescribed apnea-related treatments as a condition for employment.