Truck accidents and sleep apnea, part 2: driver fitness for duty

Tuesday March 11, 2014

In the first part of this post, we noted how fatigued driving raises the risk of truck accidents.

As we discussed, this fatigue is often related to sleep disorders. Insomnia, sleep apnea and other disorders lead to drowsy driving that involves delayed reaction time and impaired judgment.

In this part of the post, we will discuss how sleep apnea affects commercial drivers and what the standards are for evaluating driver fitness.

Research has shown that more than one-fourth (28 percent) of commercial truck drivers deal with sleep apnea, at least to a degree.

This is definitely a concern, considering the dangers of drowsy driving.

It is therefore only natural to ask how severe someone’s sleep apnea condition has to be before he or she is disqualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

The answer to that question relates to the broader question of a driver’s medical fitness for duty under federal rules.

Generally, everyone who wants to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the United States must pass a certification exam given by a medical examiner.

These examiners have guidelines on whether sleep apnea should be considered a disqualifying condition that prevents CMV driver certification.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a driver who is diagnosed as probably having sleep apnea is supposed to be disqualified at least temporarily. The temporary disqualification is to last until objective tests rule out the diagnosis or the condition of sleep apnea has been treated successfully.

In short, sleep apnea and other sleep disorders are serious issues for commercial drivers and federal standards reflect this fact. 

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) – Medical,” Accessed March 11, 2014   Additional source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “Get on the Road to Better Health: Recognizing the Dangers of Sleep Apnea,” Accessed March 11, 2014

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