While much has been written about the dangers posed by truck driver fatigue, the majority of this material is predicated on the idea of truckers who are knowingly pushing themselves beyond their physical capabilities -- and likely the law -- in order to make deadlines.
It's important to understand, however, that even the most conscientious truckers are not immune from the dangers of fatigue. That's because they may be unwittingly suffering from a serious sleep disorder known as sleep apnea.
Truckers are most likely to be affected by what is known as obstructive sleep apnea, which is characterized by the relaxation of the muscles in the back of the throat that control everything from the soft palate and tonsils to the tongue and uvula.
While this may not seem like much of a cause for concern, consider that the relaxation of these throat muscles actually serves to constrict the airway of the sleeping individual, such that they aren't taking in adequate oxygen.
In response, the brain sends a signal to rouse the person from their sleep -- so brief they typically don't remember it -- and open their airway. This entire process, manifested by a choking, gasping or snorting noise, can occur upwards of 30 times every hour for the entire night.
As you might imagine, this constitutes a major disruption, such that the person doesn’t get a restful night of deep sleep, but might actually think that they did.
Some of the routine risk factors of obstructive sleep apnea include being overweight, male, a smoker and older (60-plus), to name only a few.
As you can probably surmise by now, these are all common characteristics found within the truckers traveling our nation's roads and highways.
Indeed, in case you doubt whether there is a connection between sleep apnea and trucking, consider that Canadian researchers are currently conducting a large-scale study designed to uncover the extent of this sleep disorder on its trucking industry.
We will continue to examine the risk of serious and even fatal truck accidents caused by sleep-deprived truckers in future posts. In the meantime, be sure to consider consulting with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible if you've been injured or lost a loved one because of the negligence of a trucker or trucking company.