A new study found severely obese truck drivers are more likely to crash in the first two years of driving on a job. With this new information supporting previous assumptions regarding obesity, experts are now looking at sleep apnea as the cause of the transportation accidents. The findings will be published in the November issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention.
Sleep apnea is commonly found in overweight individuals and is associated with daytime fatigue and sleepiness. It is presumed that the sleep apnea medical condition may affect a driver’s cognitive ability to operate a commercial vehicle safely.
Commercial drivers may not be aware they are at a higher risk of transportation accidents due to refusing to self-identify as being severely obese, hence being at risk for sleep apnea. This social stigma of obesity can be internalized and may indirectly thwart the testing for sleep apnea in truck drivers.
It is for this reason the joint advisory committee of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) previously suggested that all commercial truck drivers with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher be tested for sleep apnea.
“That’s when the data stood up and shouted at us,” says Jon Anderson, a biostatistician also at the University of Minnesota, Morris, who co-authored the study. “We found really clear evidence that the highest-BMI drivers are at higher risk of having an accident.” ScienceNow
Anderson points out other factors associated with severe obesity, not necessarily sleep apnea, may be responsible for the higher incidences of accidents. These factors include “limited agility” and “obesity fatigue.” It should be noted the truck drivers under the BMI of 35 were not at any more risk of accidents than the general population. The higher rate of accidents was found solely in the severely obese driver group.
The FMCSA reports that as many as 28 percent of commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders have sleep apnea. This new information may be the catalyst for requiring a sleep apnea test for commercial licensing to prevent truck drivers from avoidable accidents.
At the present time, it is urged that commercial truck drivers accept they may be considered severely obese and talk to their doctors about the risks of developing sleep apnea.
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