Sleep Apnea & Safe Driving

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School bus accidents related to sleeping or dozing drivers happen. Lack of proper sleep can make it difficult for a driver to focus their eyes or react quickly, which may lead to accidents even if the driver doesn’t fall asleep.

It seems unlikely that school bus drivers would fall asleep while driving considering the continuous noise from the students on the bus, shorter trips, and frequent stops. However, sleep apnea is a physical condition that causes repeated sleep disturbances leading to poor sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness, loss of attention and alertness that can lead to accidents for a school bus driver. Drivers with Sleep Apnea may not be considered “fit for duty”. The condition should be diagnosed by a physician.

What is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)?

The disturbance in sleep is caused by a narrowing or closure of the upper respiratory airway. This causes pauses in breathing that prevent air from flowing into or out of a sleeping person’s airways. Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, morning headaches and nausea, gasping or choking while sleeping, loss of sex drive/impotence, excessive daytime sleepiness, irritability and/or feelings of depression, disturbed sleep, concentration and memory problems, and frequent nighttime urination. Other factors that can contribute to this condition include a family history of sleep apnea, and smoking. Physical characteristics such as a small upper airway, overweight, recessed chin, small jaw, large overbite, and large neck size can also contribute to the condition. A medical exam by a physician is the best method to determine if the condition exists.

Can I still drive if I have sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is getting more attention as a medical condition that can lead to vehicle accidents with commercial drivers. Just last month the President signed into law a bill addressing sleep apnea and commercial drivers. The bill directs the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to initiate a rulemaking process to revise its medical guidance on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and other sleep disorders. Currently the physical exam for commercial drivers addresses sleep apnea under respiratory dysfunction part of the exam. Drivers are to report conditions such as sleep disorders, pauses in breathing while asleep, daytime sleepiness, loud snoring on the medical exam report and medical examiners are to address any respiratory dysfunction “that in any way is likely to interfere with the driver’s ability to safely control and drive a commercial motor vehicle.” The individual is to be referred to a specialist for further evaluation and therapy. If the medical examiner determines the condition serious enough to interfere with safely operating the commercial motor vehicle a person can be declared “unfit for duty.”

Most cases of sleep apnea can be treated successfully, once diagnosed, and a driver can be medically qualified to drive provided they continue to properly treat the condition. For more information on sleep apnea, see the FMCSA website at www.FMCSA.dot.gov.

Article courtesy of Keystone Insurers Group