Being a truck driver is a hard and sometimes dangerous job. The long, irregular hours can take a large toll on even a healthy body. If that body is significantly overweight, however, it may not be getting proper rest — putting drivers and anyone else on the road at risk.
The University of Minnesota at Morris recently conducted a study concluding that severely obese truck drivers were 54% more likely to cause an accident in their first two years on the job and 50% more likely to be involved in a serious crash than their healthier colleagues. The leader of the study, associate professor Stephen Burks, speculated that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) could be a major factor in the increased accident rate. Sleep apnea causes a person to sporadically stop breathing for short periods of time while they sleep, decreasing their oxygen intake and causing them to feel drowsy and less alert the next day. As other studies have already found that drowsy driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving, an obese truck driver suffering (perhaps unknowingly) from sleep apnea can pose a potentially deadly threat on the road.
So why the prevalence of sleep apnea in obese truck drivers? It’s not just truck drivers. Obstructive sleep apnea is most commonly associated with being severely overweight. Doctors observe OSA throughout the obese population, generally. The assumed reason for OSA being a problem among truck drivers is, unfortunately, the fact that a significant minority of commercial truck drivers suffer from obesity. Truck drivers spend the bulk of their long hours (many drivers work 70-80 hours a week) seated in a cab. It is primarily a sedentary job. Many also do not eat healthy meals while on the road. These can combine to result in commercial truck drivers becoming obese and, ultimately, at risk of developing OSA. Studies suggest that between 17 and 28 percent of commercial drivers have sleep apnea. While federal regulations mandate that drivers get a minimum amount of sleep each week and between driving shifts, the government cannot mandate that this be “restful” sleep, of course. Sleep apnea sufferers DO sleep, it’s just a less restorative sleep than non-sufferers enjoy. Combine this with a driving/sleeping schedule that often works against their normal biological rhythm, and you have a recipe for drowsy truck drivers. It has to be a worry for us all when our commercial truck drivers feel weary and less awake when on the road.
If you are a truck driver and are struggling with your weight and/or sleep, you should visit thehealthytrucker.net and speak to your primary care physician about ways to better your health and make yourself a safer driver.
Our firm represents those that have been injured or killed in collisions with commercial vehicles. We have seen many occasions when an accident resulted from the error of an over-tired truck driver.