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Sleepy? Truckers Can Blame it on Being Overweight

Published May 2nd 2008, 5:35pm by Jody DeVere in Featured Articles

Blogoregonlivecomnwheadlines200712l A recent article at USA Today reports that obesity may be what causes some truckers to doze while driving. Last month, the medical review board of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was scheduled to finalize recommendations about truckers and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition in which people constantly reawaken for lack of air, says Maggi Gunnels, the agency's director of medical programs. The board may consider requiring truckers who have obstructive sleep apnea to get treated before certification.

People with OSA wake up frequently because the disorder causes their airways to partially close. The constant awakening -- once every minute or two in severe cases -– prevents restful sleep and makes them unusually drowsy during their waking periods. According to a blog at, an estimated 7.5 million drivers nod off behind the wheel in any given month! In fact, statistics show 37% of all drivers admit that they have dozed off while driving.

"In the United States, approximately 5,600 people are killed annually in crashes involving commercial trucks," Pack said in an article at Consumer Affairs. "Falling asleep while driving is an important factor in serious crashes involving commercial vehicles, prompting the question, why?" asks Allan Pack, director of the Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania and adviser to the medical review board, who claims that obesity is a major contributor to OSA.

Arstechnicacomnewsarspost2006101679 As a response to these allegations, the medical review board of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is expected to recommend that commercial truckers be required to undergo a sleep study once they reach a certain level of obesity. However, review board members were split over what level of obesity should trigger the sleep study requirement.

Pack says multiple studies have shown that automobile drivers who have sleep apnea have two and a half times greater risk of being in a crash. "And the crashes you get into tend to be fairly severe," he says, though no studies have been done to specifically address the crash risk of commercial truck drivers who have sleep apnea.

Gunnels says federal regulators already can ground drivers they believe are susceptible to drowsiness; the changes, if implemented, would give them more authority.

"Individually, trucking companies are becoming more aware of this issue and are screening truck drivers, but there's also a role the federal government can and should play," says Dave Osiecki, vice president of safety, security and operations at the American Trucking Associations. The federal agency's guidelines on truckers and sleep apnea need an update based on improved science and the medical community's better understanding of the condition, says Osiecki.

We’ll let you know more, after we discover how the medical review board of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has finalized its recommendations.

Brandy_schaffels_s By Brandy Schaffels

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