WCNC Special Report: Sleep Apnea and Trucking Accidents

On December 14, 2011, The Charlotte Observer reports: A five-month investigation by NewsChannel 36 finds that one factor in the increasing number of trucking deaths is seldom reported and largely unregulated: sleep apnea.

Drowsy driving kills more people on America's highways than distracted driving, a top sleep expert recently told a motor carrier safety advisory panel.

Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard University Medical School says sleep apnea gets a lot less attention than other factors in deadly accidents involving tractor-trailers, but accounts for one in five crashes.

The number of Americans who died in commercial truck crashes grew slightly to about 4,000 last year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator recently told Congress.

"I would argue that fatigue as a causal factor in truck-involved crashes is underreported, not over-reported," said Don Osterberg, vice president of Safety for Schneider National Trucking. "Absent the commercial driver acknowledging that he or she fell asleep, law enforcement doesn't record the crash as fatigue-related."

Sleep apnea – the absence of breath during sleep – interrupts deep sleep and leads to prolonged sleepiness. Commercial drivers are easily treated, typically with a breathing machine. But an estimated 85 percent of cases are undiagnosed. Some truckers fear losing their jobs and don't want to pay for expensive tests. Often, medical examiners fail to pick up on the signs of sleep apnea.

The results can be devastating.

Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/12/14/2848831/sleep-apnea-hidden-cause-of-wrecks.html#ixzz1gc2zGpjH

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