The nightmare combination of sleep apnea and truck driving

When it comes to driving dangers, you're probably already familiar with major risks such as operating a vehicle while intoxicated, or texting and driving. Another hazard of which you may or may not be aware, though, is drowsy driving. Driving when overly tired is almost as dangerous as drunk driving. If the person behind the wheel drifts off for even a second, it can literally be a matter of life and death; even more so, perhaps, when that vehicle is a massive commercial truck like a semi or tractor-trailer.

One notable contributing factor to drowsy driving is sleep apnea. In fact, sleep apnea in commercial truck drivers appears to be a major threat to the public's health, according to recent findings from the Harvard School of Public Health. But what, exactly, is sleep apnea, and how much danger does the condition pose to you and your family on the road?

Sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic medical condition that causes a sleeping individual to intermittently stop breathing throughout the night. This, in turn, results in poor sleep quality and extreme daytime drowsiness. What does this have to do with truck drivers, you may be wondering? Well, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea affects more than 25 million adults in America, many of them drivers.
  • Over 20 percent of commercial truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea; that's one out of every five!
  • Sleep apnea can lead to drowsy driving and thus is a factor in the over 328,000 drowsy driving crashes that occur every year.

A study from Harvard School of Public Health last year found that truck drivers who did not seek medical treatment for their sleep apnea were five times likelier to have an otherwise preventable wreck than were drivers who do not suffer from the disorder.

Study findings

Researchers looked at data from 2006 through 2010 for more than 3,600 truck drivers. Comprising the study group were truck drivers suffering from obstructive sleep apnea who treated their condition, drivers who left their condition untreated and drivers who did not suffer from sleep apnea. Findings indicated that:

  • Drivers who regularly treated their sleep apnea performed equally as well as non-sufferers.
  • Drivers who failed to address their apnea had significantly worse crash rates.
  • Consistent treatment should be a priority – if not a stipulation – amongst truck drivers who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Despite these worrisome findings, however, legislating the issue remains controversial. In fact, just a few years ago, Congress was pressing for longer hours for truck drivers, when the opposite – more rest time – would be far likelier to improve safety.


The frightening fact is that drowsy driving kills thousands every year, and the sheer size of commercial vehicles means that a trucking accident is that much more likely to be fatal, so when these factors merge, the results can be catastrophic.

No matter how well-rested and careful you are, you have no control over the behaviors of other drivers. If you or your family suffers serious injuries in an accident with a tractor trailer or semi due to the recklessness of a commercial driver, there are professional resources in the Phoenix, Arizona area who focus their practice on these types of cases and are ready to fight at your side.

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