Study: Truck drivers 500% more likely to crash with sleep apnoea

Almost half of truck drivers suffer from sleep apnoea and it makes them five times more likely to be in a crash if untreated, a new study says

Study: Truck drivers 500% more likely to crash with sleep apnoea
Treated sleep apnea removes the crash risk.


A new study out of the US has found truck drivers with untreated sleep apnoea are five times more likely to be involved in serious and preventable crashes.

The report from the University of Minnesota Morris faculty, which marks the biggest study of its kind to date, compared over 1,600 truck drivers diagnosed with sleep apnoea to an equal number of truck drivers believed to not have the condition.

Analysing the rates of preventable crashes per 100,000 miles (160,000km) driven, the research found that for every 1,000 truck drivers with untreated obstructive sleep apnoea 70 would be involved in a crash – considerably higher than the 14 likely crashes by those without the condition.

While the research is part of a rule making process in the US to determine whether truck drivers should have sleep apnea screens every two years, the results show the risk for those who have the condition and followed the provided treatment are the same as those without it.

The study says the treatment process, a mask with an air pump worn during sleep, is an effective solution and removes the associated risks.

News that should be welcomed by the 40 per cent of truck drivers in Australia who suffer from moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnoea.

The number is predicted by Sydney University Professor Ron Grunstein, with the lack of exercise and smoking contributing factors.

"As a group, they tend to exhibit many of the risk factors associated with sleep apnoea, in that they are middle aged males who are often overweight and obese," Grunstein explained to the NSW Coroner's Court in 2013.

His predictions stem from a 2012 study he conducted on 1,000 local truck drivers.

Another study from Curtin University in 2013, titled The Heavy Vehicle Study - Final Report, found 41 per cent of tested drivers had the condition, but only four per cent knew that they were suffers before the study began.

During in-depth interviews, the report says most suffering truck drivers were surprised to find out they needed help, even those with a severe level of sleep apnoea.

"Confirming that signs of chronic tiredness can be poorly detected by those most affected," the report says.

It also highlighted the issues with self-reporting.

"Heavy vehicle licensing policy makers, general practitioners and employers in the heavy vehicle industry all need a better understanding of sleep apnoea and the need to finding the most effective ways to assess and manage the condition for this group of workers," the study says.

The lack of awareness and action was backed by the second sleep illness expert to appear before the NSW Coroner’s court in 2013, Dr Anup Desai, who concluded drivers were reluctant to report issues in fear of being taken off the road.

However, in light of the University of Minnesota study, that fear makes those drivers five times more likely to be involved in a crash that could injure themselves or others.


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