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Why Are Truck Drivers Susceptible to Drowsy Driving?

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Just the idea that a trucker driving next your car on the highway might be close to dozing off while operating an 18-wheeler at high speeds is terrifying. However, most people probably believe that the odds of it actually happening to them are remote. Unfortunately, truck drivers falling asleep while sharing the road with you has probably come close to happening many times before, and you just did not realize it.


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that around 25 million Americans suffer from, according to a sleep expert from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). Symptoms of OSA include:

  • Excessive sleepiness during waking hours
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Snoring that is loud
  • Waking up suddenly with shortness of breath
  • High blood pressure
  • Intermittent periods of paused breathing during sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood swings
  • Chest pain
  • Waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth

The AASM estimates that over 20 percent of truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea. Fleet Owner recently featured an article concerning the trucking industry’s sleep apnea problem and what the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is doing about it, including working on a sleep apnea rule for truckers.


Truck drivers falling asleep while driving is unacceptable. Every time it happens, it puts everyone sharing the road with the sleeping truck driver at risk of suffering a severe or even fatal injury in a truck accident. It is that danger that has spurred the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to call for the US Department of Transportation to do more to prevent truckers with sleeping disorders from getting behind the wheel.

The NTSB’s proposal cited a July 2000 incident that involved a tractor-trailer driver who was allegedly suffering from sleep apnea falling asleep while driving and crashing into a Tennessee Highway Patrol car that was part of a construction vehicle convoy in a work zone. The truck accident resulted in the death of the state trooper driving the patrol car. Reportedly, the trucker had received an OSA diagnosis and undergone surgery for the disease, but failed to indicate that he had been diagnosed or undergone surgery for OSA during his truck driver medical certification examinations.

Nashville sees quite a few 18-wheelers passing through on a daily basis. It is frightening to know that possibly as many as 1 in 5 of the drivers of large trucks traveling on our highways is suffering from OSA. We truly hope that the programs that the FMCSA is working on to keep truckers suffering from sleep disorders off the road are implemented sooner rather than later.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 6:12

Stanley A. Davis is a car and truck accident attorney serving the greater Nashville, Tennessee area.

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