Are Truck Drivers Prone to Sleep Disorders?

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Large truck accidents are the leading cause of severe injuries and fatalities on roadways. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the vast majority of deaths from these fatal accidents involve occupants of smaller vehicles sharing the road with large trucks, as well as cyclists and pedestrians.

There are several reasons other individuals besides truck drivers are more vulnerable to the severity of truck accidents. Trucks are much larger and heavier, take longer to brake, have big blind spots, and most importantly, require greater focus and concentration to operate. Unfortunately, when truck drivers are tired and distracted on their long routes, it is often innocent people who suffer the consequences.

Over the past few years, fatal truck accidents have continued to increase as a result of truck driver fatigue. One reason for this has been cited as the pressure truck drivers may feel to meet tight schedules. Truck drivers often travel long distances for many hours with very few breaks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) limits the number of hours a commercial driver is allowed to operate a truck. Although commercial carriers are bound by this limitation and other regulations, violations continue to happen. This has led to growing concerns about truck drivers and potential sleep conditions.

What Are the Most Common Truck Driver Sleep Disorders?

Sleep disorders can cause truck drivers to fall asleep at the wheel, reduce their cognitive functionality and reaction time, and impair their overall driving performance. The following are the most prevalent sleep conditions in the trucking industry:

  • Insomnia: Insomnia is a sleep disorder that plagues many Americans. It involves difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Recent studies have shown that insomnia affects almost a third of truck drivers. Truck drivers with insomnia have twice the risk of motor vehicle accidents and three times the risk of near-miss accidents.
  • Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a common and dangerous sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly starts and stops. Unfortunately, most cases of sleep apnea in truck drivers go undiagnosed and untreated. There are several types of sleep apnea, which include:
  • Obstructive sleep apnea: This occurs when throat muscles relax and is the most common cause of excessive daytime sleepiness in truck drivers.
  • Central sleep apnea: This happens when the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea: This is a combination of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
  • Addiction: The disease of addiction significantly affects sleep quality. Studies have shown that many truck drivers suffer from depression and anxiety, disorders that can lead to an increased risk of drug dependency. Prescription, over-the-counter, and illicit drugs can all have a negative impact on truck driving ability. Some truck drivers use stimulants such as amphetamines, cocaine, and excessive caffeine derivatives in attempt to stay alert during long periods of driving. Abuse of these types of substances can cause extended stretches of sleep suppression, followed by periods of hypersomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness.

Truck drivers who suffer from sleep conditions are also much more likely to experience the following:

  • Depression
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Respiratory disorders

Studies reflect that at least one-fourth of commercial truck drivers have some kind of sleep disorder. Specifically, nearly a third of truck drivers experience moderate to severe sleep apnea, which can be potentially life-threatening to both truck drivers and others sharing the road.

Why Do So Many Truck Drivers Have Sleep Disorders?

Large trucks and their drivers are a necessity in the United States, to transport goods and benefit our economy. Subsequently, some trucking companies have put major pressure on their drivers to make deliveries in unreasonable time periods. As a result, some truck drivers forego sleep for long periods to keep up with these demands. It is not unusual for truck drivers to work upwards of 11-hour shifts and drive up to 14 hours in one day. Many truck drivers report that they are unable to sleep more than four to six hours prior to these long shifts, owing to the development of insomnia or other sleep disorders.

For these and other reasons, truck drivers can develop chronic sleep disorders. The following are some common contributors to sleep disorders in truck drivers:

  • Trucking regulations: The new regulations from the FMCSA mandate that all product-carrying truck drivers must have 10 hours of consecutive off-duty time after an 11-hour driving limit. However, truck drivers may divide their off-duty time in light of additional provisions. Although the new rules are intended to give truck drivers more flexibility and improve safety for all motorists, trucking companies and their drivers do not always stay informed or in compliance with the multiple updates to trucking regulations.
  • Poor physical health: There are direct consequences to truck drivers’ physical health as a result of their sedentary lifestyle. A large contributor to sleep apnea issues and the subsequent dangers is a truck driver’s weight. Physical weight and neck measurements are two of the biggest predictors of sleep apnea in truck drivers. Research findings show that truck drivers are six times more likely to have sleep apnea, a dangerous sleep disorder that can increase the likelihood of truck accidents. Poor physical health can also cause heart conditions and seizure disorders, which can also be extremely dangerous for all motorists.
  • Drug use and mental health: A major contributing factor to sleep conditions in truck drivers is drug use, particularly narcotics. Substance abuse plays a huge part in both sleep deprivation and declining mental health. All these problems put truck drivers and other motorists at greater risk for accidents on the road.

Why Is Quality Sleep So Important?

For years, research studies have shown that sleep is a key component in preventing health issues such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and substance abuse disorders. Similarly, research has shown that truck drivers getting enough sleep reduces the rate of motor vehicle accidents. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a study that proved that drivers with sleep disorders have, on average, double the risk of motor vehicle accidents and triple the risk of near-miss accidents. These rates increase with a truck driver’s age and time spent on the clock.

Additionally, the FMCSA cites other research that reinforces the fact that truck driver fatigue slows reaction time and ability to promptly assess traffic-related situations. When the driver of an 80,000-pound commercial truck travels at highway speeds, any delay in reaction time to a dangerous situation can have potentially deadly consequences.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep, depending on age. When truck drivers have these blocks of time off duty, the hope is they will be using it to get the appropriate amount of sleep needed to perform their jobs safety. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Obviously, certain things need to change in the trucking industry to improve safety for everyone sharing the road with truck drivers. Truck drivers consistently report mental health and sleep pattern problems, yet they continue to spend nearly all their waking hours behind the wheel. In addition, life-threatening sleep apnea is becoming an increasing concern as a direct consequence of the sedentary lifestyle that comes with truck driving.

Car accidents caused by truck driver fatigue are negligent in nature because fatigued drivers not only put their own health and safety in danger, but also that of other innocent travelers on the road. Although federal regulations regarding breaks are designed to include adequate time for truck drivers to have consistent sleep schedules, trucking companies continue to put immense pressure on their drivers to meet delivery deadlines. This often leads to violations of the safety rules and subsequent accidents, despite requirements for truck drivers to track their hours.

Truck accidents often lead to devastating injuries and potentially fatal outcomes. Although you should never have to worry that another driver’s fatigue will cause life-altering injuries to you and your loved ones, truck accidents continue to occur in Maryland and particularly in the Baltimore area. Truck accidents usually result in serious personal injury, damage, and loss. If you have been involved in a truck accident, a knowledgeable truck accident lawyer can help you understand who may be held liable and ensure you receive the fair compensation for which you are entitled.


Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Provide Skilled Legal Counsel for Clients

The Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton are experienced in handling all kinds of truck accident cases. Our compassionate team is here for you and your loved ones if you have suffered the consequences of a devastating truck accident. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

We have offices in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, allowing us to represent clients in Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.