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Sleep apnea and truck drivers: a deadly combination

Millions of people in the U.S. suffer from a condition called sleep apnea, which is a disorder that causes pauses in breathing when a person is sleeping. Sufferers are often awoken dozens of times at night because of these pauses, which means they are not well rested. When a person is sleep deprived, he or she may not be fit to operate a motor vehicle.

This condition is serious, and untreated sleep apnea is the reason why some truckers are not issued the medical certificate they need to lawfully operate a commercial vehicle. However, between complications with confusing screening guidelines and difficulties with monitoring sufferers, there are very real challenges with keep every sleep-deprived trucker off the road.

Backing up a little, readers should understand that truckers must meet certain criteria in terms of physical health before receiving a medical certificate. These certificates are issued by registered medical examiners who conduct various tests and assess a person’s health.

Medical examiners are expected to pay close attention to signs of disorders like sleep apnea, as they can make a person too tired to operate a huge truck safely. Examiners can and do order additional testing to confirm whether a person suffers from sleep apnea or not, though some critics argue these screenings are being ordered too often.

If a trucker has sleep apnea, he or she may not be medically cleared for a commercial license. Even if a person receives the certificate after evaluation and therapy, there are challenges with people not following through with treatment practices, like use of a CPAP machine.

All of this contributes to the larger problem of fatigued commercial drivers causing serious truck accidents that could have been prevented. Despite the numerous federal regulations and guidelines that attempt to prohibit such behaviors, truckers are still getting behind the wheel when they know they shouldn’t, either because of a desire to make more money or in response to employer pressures.

If state and federal laws are not enough to motivate truckers to stay off the road when fatigued, then it may take legal action in the wake of an accident to send a strong enough message that drowsy driving is dangerous.