Federal safety investigators are considering screening commercial bus and truck drivers, as well as merchant ship pilots for sleep apnea. Investigators said the condition is causing crashes due to interrupted sleep which causes fatigue at work.
Earlier this year, The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made similar recommendations for train operators and airline pilots.
In letters to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Coast Guard, the board cited several accidents, in which sleep apnea was a factor. It recommended requiring medical examiners to question drivers and pilots about the disorder – which involves disruptions in breathing during sleep – and to develop programs to help identify the disorder.
The board also cited a study from 2002 that estimated 7 percent of adults have at least a moderate form of the sleep apnea. Testing for the disorder could save lives, say federal authorities, as most people are unaware they have the disorder.
Sleep apnea is involuntary and the individual usually wakes himself up after a breathing pause that lasts at least ten seconds up to 30 seconds, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause a host of medical conditions including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and headaches.
According to a Transportation Department spokeswoman, the motor carrier administration is currently considering a rule to tighten standards for medical certification of commercial drivers.
The FAA said it is in the process of drafting new rules to address pilot fatigue and will consider the board’s recommendations.
The Coast Guard is considering the recommendations and will pursue safety strategies, Lisa Novak, a spokeswoman.
The Federal Railroad and Aviation Administration said they are drafting new rules to consider the danger of sleep apnea. However, medical experts believe applying the same rules to commercial trucking may prove much more challenging.
“Identifying people who have sleep apnea will be difficult unless the person volunteer’s information about their snoring habits or if they experience excessive daytime drowsiness. Otherwise, sleep studies on everyone applying for a commercial driver’s license will be needed,” said CBS4 Medical Editor Dr. Dave Hnida.
More than twelve million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, according to the National Institutes of Health. #