News & Personal Injury Law Blog

Driver Sleep Apnea Can Lead to Serious Tractor-Trailer Accidents

Serious tractor-trailer accidents, like the June 27th crash involving a UPS semi-truck driver and the June 7th collision that killed one man and severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan, have raised awareness about sleep apnea within the commercial trucking industry.

Although anyone who has been behind the wheel for several hours at a time has probably experienced fatigue and drowsiness, commercial truck drivers can cause serious injury and death when they fall asleep on the road. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, a tractor-trailer traveling 55 miles per hour can traverse the length of entire football field within 4.6 seconds. In other words, a truck driver who nods off for just a few seconds can cause devastation on the highway.

Combatting Driver Fatigue and Sleep Apnea

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has identified sleep apnea as a leading cause of commercial driver fatigue. A breathing-related sleep disorder, sleep apnea occurs when a sleeping individual’s airway is momentarily restricted, resulting in shallow breaths or pauses in breathing. It disrupts normal sleep and results in poor sleep quality, causing sufferers to experience unusual tiredness and exhaustion during the day. Because it occurs when a person is asleep, many sleep apnea sufferers are unaware they have the disorder. As a result, a large number of cases go undiagnosed. A University of Pennsylvania study found that 28 percent of commercial truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea. This accounts for one-third of all commercial drivers on the road. Sleep apnea can also negatively impact an individual’s reaction time and ability to focus – symptoms that can compromise a commercial truck driver’s ability to safely operate his or her vehicle.

As researchers continue to learn more about sleep apnea, the FMCSA has put several regulations in place to cut down on driver fatigue-related accidents. In July 2013, the FMCSA implemented a new Hours of Service Rule cutting the maximum number of weekly driving hours from 82 to 70. The new Rule also limits a driver to a 14-hour work day, with only 11 of those hours behind the wheel. Additionally, Congress passed legislation in 2013 requiring the FMCSA to initiate rulemaking proceedings after conducting a thorough study of the effects of sleep apnea in drivers and the cost of implementing screening and treatment. Currently, FMCSA regulations provide that commercial vehicle drivers with moderate to severe sleep apnea are disqualified from driving. Drivers who obtain successful treatment for their sleep apnea can regain their certification to drive. In May 2014, the FMCSA also began requiring all commercial drivers to obtain biannual physicals from Certified Medical Examiners. Previously, drivers could see any health care provider for their required physical.

Chicago Truck Accident Lawyers

Commercial drivers and carriers who engage in the unsafe operation of a tractor-trailer can be held liable for injuries and fatalities that result from their negligence. If you have been injured in a semi-truck collision, or you have lost a family member in a trucking accident, the personal injury attorneys at Anesi, Ozmon, Rodin, Novak & Kohen can help you obtain full and fair compensation. Call today to speak with a personal injury attorney about your case. (312) 372-3822.

This website has been prepared by Anesi, Ozmon, Rodin, Novak & Kohen, Ltd. for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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Anesi, Ozmon, Rodin, Novak & Kohen Ltd.