Fatigued driving is a serious problem for all drivers on the road, but when it comes to commercial truck accidents, the danger level increases dramatically. One single truck can weigh as much as 40 tons—80,000 pounds—and that’s just for one trailer. When a driver who is exhausted or falling asleep at the wheel due to a medical condition such as sleep apnea makes an error in judgment, the situation can quickly spiral out of control, causing multi-vehicle collisions that cost lives and inflict tremendous economic damage.
Here are the facts about truck driver fatigue and sleep apnea, and what you can to do get legal help if you’ve been hurt in an accident with a commercial truck.
How Sleep Apnea Affects Truck Drivers
Many people suffer from sleep apnea, which is both a medical condition and a form of sleep disorder. Those with the condition will stop breathing for ten seconds or more at a time while sleeping; this happens repeatedly throughout the night at irregular intervals.
Apnea may be caused by a mechanical blockage, which is called obstructive sleep apnea, or it may be caused by the nervous system, called central sleep apnea. In both types of sleep apnea, the pauses in breathing cause the body to react automatically by shifting out of deep sleep, though the sleeper typically doesn’t fully awaken during these episodes. Without treatment, sleep apnea prevents the sufferer from ever truly achieving the kind of restful sleep required to keep alert and active during the day.
When the driver of a heavy truck has untreated sleep apnea, it’s likely that he or she will have trouble staying awake and keeping alert and focused on the task of driving the truck. Reaction time can be significantly reduced in case of an emergency, such as a sudden road hazard or mechanical failure. Combined with the long hours and tedious, sedentary nature of driving a truck, the end result is that the overall chances of a fatigued driver to experience an accident are significantly increased.
Are There Regulations About Sleep Apnea for Truck Drivers?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is responsible for the rules and regulations that control commercial truck driving and the licensing process. Currently, there are no specific rules about sleep apnea, though the issue has been hotly debated and there have been multiple attempts to pass new regulations.
However, there currently are general rules about medical conditions or histories that could interfere with the ability to safely operate a truck safely. A person with any such condition is usually prohibited from driving. If he or she receives proper treatment, it’s possible to be medically certified and gain (or regain) permission to operate a commercial vehicle. The recertification process involves a doctor and a medical examiner from the FMCSA, who will make a determination about the operator’s ability and fitness to safely operate a commercial vehicle.
Treatment options for sleep apnea can involve:
- A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, used at night to aid in breathing.
- A mouth guard or similar dental fixture that adjusts the tongue and jaw position at night.
- Medical devices that go in or on the nose, opening the airway.
- Surgical procedures to remove tissue that prevents breathing from the airway.
- Weight loss.
- Other lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking or alcohol use.
If a fatigued truck driver causes an accident, it’s possible that sleep apnea is a contributing factor, especially if it’s untreated. A personal injury attorney with experience handling accidents involving commercial vehicles will be able to investigate the situation, including examining the medical history of the driver, and come to a conclusion about how to proceed with the case. For example, if the driver has an untreated condition or lied about a condition to his or her employer, those facts could work in your favor when seeking compensation for your injuries.
Get Legal Help After a Truck Accident
If you’ve been injured in an accident with a drowsy truck driver, Wayne Wright LLP would like to hear from you today. We’ve spent decades standing up for the rights of the victims of tragic accidents caused by negligence, carelessness, and recklessness on the road, and we may be able to help you receive compensation for your medical bills, physical therapy, lost wages, personal property repair or replacement, pain and suffering, and more. For a free, no-obligation consultation with a legal professional who cares, call us by phone, use the contact link to send an email, or click the live chat box on this page now.