In 2016, an investigation in the aftermath of a deadly train accident in New Jersey identified that the operator of the train had a medical condition called sleep apnea. When treated properly, the effects of sleep apnea can be controlled. However, when sleep apnea goes undiagnosed or untreated, it can result in severe fatigue throughout the day. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) authorities believed that the operator fell asleep at the controls and warned of the necessity of testing all train operators for sleep apnea to ensure they received the required treatment.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) agreed that all commercial truck drivers should also be tested for sleep apnea. The FMCSA estimates that 13 percent of truck drivers who crashed were determined to have been overly fatigued and regular testing for sleep apnea is one way to curb fatigued driving for commercial drivers. Under the Obama Administration, these agencies set out to propose regulations that would require such testing for train and truck drivers as part of their license approval and renewal.
However, on trend with the new administration’s cutback of federal regulatory action, the FRA and FMCSA have now announced they are no longer trying to enact new rules regarding sleep apnea testing. Many safety advocates and experts have spoken against this decision, stating it puts motorists at an unnecessary risk of fatigued driving accidents.
How Sleep Apnea Can Affect Driving Ability
Most people associate fatigued driving with truckers who violate hours of service rules and drive extended shifts. However, even if truck drivers stay within the limits of allowed driving shifts, there are other reasons why they may be fatigued behind the wheel. For example, several medical conditions can lead to daytime fatigue and one of the biggest culprits is sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea causes a person to involuntarily wake up to resume breathing—sometimes hundreds of times during a single night. Each of these small disruptions keeps a person from getting into the deeper stages of sleep and completing a full sleep cycle. This can lead to marked tiredness during the day.
Fatigued driving can cause impairments that have been compared to drunk driving. Such impairments can include:
- Lapses in focus and attention
- Delayed reaction time and reflexes
- Irritability or impatience
- Judgment problems
- Blurred vision
- Dozing off or falling asleep
Any of the above impairments can significantly affect a person’s driving ability. Falling asleep at the wheel is perhaps the most dangerous effect of fatigued driving, as a driver will almost certainly lose control and depart their lanes within seconds of their eyes shutting. The damage that an out-of-control 80,000-pound commercial truck can do in this situation is often devastating.
Trucking Companies Should Take Action
The FRA and FMCSA stated that it was up to individual train and truck companies to decide whether their drivers will be tested for sleep apnea. Commercial drivers already undergo a thorough medical evaluation and must have the sign-off by an approved medical professional before they can obtain or renew their commercial driver’s license. While sleep apnea testing is still not a required part of this evaluation on the federal level, trucking companies can enact their own policies that make it standard to test for sleep apnea.
Being diagnosed with sleep apnea will not necessarily disqualify someone from commercial truck driving. However, it is important to ensure they are receiving the treatment they need to prevent fatigue during their driving shifts and to reduce the risk of fatigued driving accidents and injuries to others on the road. Any driver who continues to drive while overly fatigued should be held fully liable for any damages and injuries they cause.
Contact a Fort Lauderdale Truck Accident Attorney for Assistance
After a truck accident, it can be challenging to determine and prove what caused the crash and whether the truck driver should be held liable. Many resources are often required to fully investigate the circumstances leading to the accident and to identify any possible liability. It is important to have a law firm helping you that has the resources to devote to truck accident investigation and to decide your best course of action to seek compensation.
The Law Office of Joseph J. LoRusso has the ability to handle even the most complex truck accident claims. We know how to investigate a crash and hold any negligent truck drivers or trucking companies liable for our clients’ injuries. Please do not hesitate to call our office today to discuss your situation for free at 954-715-3260.