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Truck drivers with sleep apnea may crash more often

Calls for commercial vehicle drivers in Ohio and around the country to undergo testing for sleep apnea are likely to grow louder in the wake of a report released on March 21 by researchers from a branch of the University of Minnesota. The research is the largest body of work to date looking into the connection between sleep apnea and truck accidents, and it indicates that drivers who suffer from the breathing disorder and neglect their treatment crash far more often.

Sleep apnea sufferers are often fatigued during the day because their nocturnal rest is interrupted so frequently. Fatigue is a major concern for the federal agencies tasked with improving road safety, and this is particularly true with respect to big rig drivers. Crash statistics reveal that truck drivers who had fallen asleep at the wheel caused accidents that claimed nearly 9,000 lives between 2004 and 2013.

The researchers compared 1,600 truck drivers diagnosed with sleep apnea with a group of drivers who were screened by doctors and deemed unlikely to suffer from the condition. The group of sleep apnea sufferers had crash rates no higher than non-sufferers when they followed the advice of their physicians, but accident rates shot up five-fold among drivers who eschewed their treatment plans. Experts believe that more than a quarter of the nation's commercial truck drivers suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Truck drivers who cause an accident after nodding off or experiencing some sort of medical emergency while behind the wheel may be considered negligent if they were aware of their condition and the danger that it posed to other road users. Foreseeability is often the central argument in cases of this type, and attorneys representing injured victims may attempt to establish that the defendant knew that the ability to operate a commercial vehicle would likely be compromised at some point.

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