Truck drivers are people and some are overweight. Some, like the general population, are downright obese. But over-the-road truck drivers make their living driving very large, heavy vehicles that cause incredible damage to people and property when they are involved in accidents. It is for this reason that some industry watchers and scientists have turned their attention to the question of whether obese truck drivers should be regulated because of a perceived relationship between sleep apnea, which is exacerbated by obesity, and accidents caused by drowsy, sleep deprived truck drivers.
- 5,200 people are killed by truck involved accidents every year.
- More than 100,000 people are injured in truck involved accidents every year.
- There are about 161,000 truck and bus accidents per year.
- Sleep apnea increases the risk of an accident by two to seven times.
- Up to 28 percent of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea which is approximately 3.9 million of the 14 million licensed commercial drivers in the U.S.
- The rate of sleep apnea in the general population is an estimated 4 percent in men and 2 percent in women which is significantly lower than the rate which afflicts truck drivers.
- The average cost of a large truck accident that results in fatality is 3.6 million dollars.
- The average cost of a large truck accident that results in non fatal injuries is almost $200,000.
- The average cost of all large truck accidents is $91,000.
The proposed regulation is mandatory screening for sleep apnea because of research which shows a strong link between sleep apnea and fat drivers. Specifically, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), is considering imposing a rule which would require drivers with a body mass index of 30 (the baseline for obesity) or higher to undergo screening for sleep apnea. Researchers suggest that 40 percent of commercial truck drivers have a BMI of 30 or higher so this will be significant if the FMCSA enacts it.
The reason for the delay in following a Medical Review Panel’s recommendation to implement the screening rule is the financial impact it will have on the industry. There will be costs for sleep studies as well as equipment to deal address the apnea and monitor the drivers who are diagnosed with the condition. Such costs could be particularly onerous for smaller trucking companies.
A couple of companies, Schneider National and Swift Transportation, have voluntarily implemented their own testing and treatment programs because they recognize the benefits in terms public safety (reducing accidents), savings in expenditures for losses caused by accidents, increased driver retention and reduced employee health care costs. But some observers point out that change in this area will come slowly if at all unless the screening requirements are mandatory. I agree and think that benefits far outweigh the costs. What do you think?
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.