The potential for a sleep-deprived truck driver to cause a severe personal injury accident is obvious. Given the large number of trucks traveling the highways of New Orleans on a daily basis, we all have an interest in ensuring truck drivers are as alert and vigilant as possible. The Medical Review Board of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – a panel of five physicians that advises the FMCSA on medical issues – has been advocating increased evaluation of sleep apnea in drivers for several years. The FMCSA now has taken a step forward in addressing this condition among truck drivers.
Sleep apnea is a medical condition which causes abnormal pauses in breathing while asleep. These pauses disrupt normal sleep. According to members of the Medical Review Board, sleep apnea may lead to chronic fatigue, reduced reaction time, lapses in attention and distractibility. Operating a truck under such conditions is an obvious danger. A professor at the Harvard Medical School has determined that individuals with sleep apnea are 242% more likely to be a crash risk than individuals without this disorder.
While the FMCSA has as yet to adopt a comprehensive rule regarding sleep apnea, it has recently posted for comment the recommendation of the Medical Review Panel and the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee that medical examiners should be required to test truck drivers with a body mass index of 35 or greater for sleep apnea. Research has demonstrated that a high body mass index – a measurement of percentage of body fat – is a strong indicator of susceptibility to sleep apnea.
Also up for consideration is a recommendation that if a truck driver either falls asleep while driving or is in a crash related to fatigue, he be immediately disqualified from operating a truck. The truck driver would be required to undergo an evaluation and, if necessary, treatment for sleep apnea prior to being allowed to drive. Under this recommendation, the medical examiner could provide a 60-day conditional card to the driver during evaluation and treatment.
Hopefully, these recommendations will be a step toward reducing the number of fatigued truck drivers on the road. If you have been injured in an accident with a truck, we would be happy to answer your legal questions. Please feel free to call us at 504-581-6411 or 855-GERTLER.