The importance of a good night’s sleep is a well-known fact, but sleep apnea can prevent sufferers from getting the rest that they need to function. Being exhausted due to sleep apnea can lead to fatal accidents on the road, particularly if you’re driving a car—or if you’re operating forty tons of commercial truck. A truck driver with undiagnosed apnea can easily fall asleep at the wheel and cause a devastating crash, hurting or killing themselves and many other drivers on the road.
Here’s what you need to know about sleep apnea, truck accidents, and what to do if you’re in an accident with a commercial truck driver who fell asleep behind the wheel.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common sleep-related disorder that causes the sufferer to have breathing difficulty while asleep. Sufferers of sleep apnea may not be able to breathe effectively or may stop breathing altogether for short periods of time, repeatedly and throughout the night. The inability to breathe partially awakens the sleeper, causing him or her to be unable to enter the truly deep phase of sleep that’s essential to feeling well-rested in the morning.
The most common type of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in which the breathing passages collapse or become otherwise blocked momentarily. Truck drivers are at particular risk of obstructive sleep apnea due to the common lifestyle of the long-haul trucker. Risk factors for OSA that may overlap with a trucker’s lifestyle with include the following:
- Lack of exercise and a sedentary job or lifestyle
- Being overweight or obese
- High blood pressure
- Heavy snoring
- Alcohol use
- Middle-aged or older
Sleep apnea also brings a host of potential complications with it. OSA can make high blood pressure worse, and may increase the chances of a stroke, heart attack, or irregular heartbeat. OSA sufferers are at greater risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which are also linked to higher cholesterol and heart disease, and may suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, too.
Dangers of Sleep Apnea and Truck Driving
The most dangerous symptoms of OSA for a truck driver (and those on the road nearby) are the fatigue, inability to focus the eyes or the mind, and the delayed reaction times that accompany sleep deprivation, all of which can lead to an accident.
The National Traffic Safety Board has found that as many as 30 to 40 percent of all truck accidents involve operator fatigue, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy-driving accidents cause over 1,550 deaths per year, as well as over 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in economic losses.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sets safety rules for truck drivers. It requires medical exams for commercial drivers every two years. However, there is no federal requirement to test for OSA—or to ensure that a driver with apnea is receiving treatment. Researchers in one study found that the risk of a preventable accident increased by five times for drivers with OSA who do not get proper treatment or do not follow treatment instructions.
Get Legal Help After a Truck Accident
If you were hurt when a truck driver fell asleep while driving and caused an accident, there are very specific steps involved in order for you to receive the full compensation that you deserve. A personal injury attorney who has experience with commercial truck driving accidents will be able to help your case by investigating the crash and the driver thoroughly to find the evidence that an untreated sleeping disorder was the cause of the accident. A skilled attorney who knows commercial trucking law will also be able to make sure that all potential sources of liability are pursued so that you can afford to pay for the medical bills, rehabilitation, and repair or replacement of your vehicle, as well as compensation for your pain and suffering and more.
When you need to talk to a qualified personal injury attorney that understands your needs after a serious accident with a commercial truck, Wayne Wright LLP is here for you. Call us today by phone, send an email with our contact form, or click the live chat box to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with a legal professional.