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Sleep apnea caused fatal truck accident, widow claims

Following a truck accident that took the life of her husband, a widow is working to bring awareness to the alarmingly high number of commercial drivers that operate trucks, buses, and similar vehicles despite being diagnosed with sleep apnea. In 2009, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a recommendation that all commercial truck and bus drivers, airline pilots, and ship captains undergo mandatory sleep apnea testing. However, testing has not yet been made mandatory for drivers in any mode of transportation, and the widow hopes to change that.

Sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder in which airway blockages create brief pauses in breathing during sleep, thereby disrupting sleep patterns and causing people to be more tired during waking hours. As a result, truck and other commercial vehicle drivers who have the disorder have an increased risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. In the truck accident at issue, the driver had been diagnosed with sleep apnea more than two months prior to the fatal crash, which the widow believes caused the accident and her husband's death.

According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea in some form, and most of them are not aware of it. Men and obese people are more likely to have the disorder. Because more than 90 percent of truckers are men, with an average body mass index above the benchmark for obesity, there percentage of truck drivers who have sleep apnea is likely very high.

Some commercial transportation companies require that drivers who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea or who have high risk factors for the disorder must stop driving until they are tested and treated for the disease. However, this does not always take dangerous drivers off the road. In the truck accident we discussed at the beginning of this blog post, the trucking company that employed the driver was not alerted that he had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and was unable to take action to remove him from service, a step that may have saved a man's life.

Source: Austin American-Statesman, "New Braunfels widow fights sleep apnea in transportation," Helen Anders, Sept. 26, 2011

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