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Mandated sleep apnea screenings could save lives.

If you have been following our blog, you are familiar with the hazards big rigs present to others riding in passenger vehicles throughout the Chicagoland area. Earlier in December, we discussed federal regulations that require the submission of daily vehicle reports. When trucks are inspected upon the completion of a shift, the proper maintenance and motorist safety are promoted. While mandating regular reviews of semi-trucks will not completely erase the chance for a truck collision with an automobile, it will limit the opportunity for defective trucks to hit the road.

Another proposal by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) aims to reduce the number of trucking accidents even further. This past June, both agencies announced their intention to require commercial truck drivers to undergo screening for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder that reduces alertness in the afflicted.

While many Americans suffer from sleep apnea's theft of restorative rest, professional truck drivers seem to be disproportionately influenced by this disorder. A study sponsored by the FMCSA and the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) stipulates that "one-third of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea." The sedentary life on the road has a negative impact on a truck driver's health, as there is a high correlation between obesity and sleep apnea.

In spite of knowing the symptoms and risk factors associated with sleep apnea, many truck drivers do not get tested. According to estimates by the Cleveland Clinic, it is possible that "as many as 80 percent of OSA cases nationwide go undiagnosed." While the testing and treatment may be expensive, the treatment is effective. Using a breathing machine at night, those with sleep apnea can again have a restful sleep and feel alert after a night's sleep. This breathing machine helps to reduce drowsiness behind the wheel, lowering the chance of preventable driving accidents.

Should the proposed regulations pass, all commercial drivers would be required to be tested for sleep apnea. Those determined to have the sleep disorder will need to show they are following approved treatment protocol before being allowed to get behind the wheel. Such a mandate may prove life-saving, as the Centers for Disease Control has reported that commercial drivers often drive when they are drowsy in order to get paid for logging miles.

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