Truck accidents are much more likely to result in catastrophic injuries or wrongful death than other types of accidents involving smaller passenger vehicles. For this reason, the Department of Transportation and its agency, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), have guidelines that regulate the trucking industry. For example, commercial drivers must pass DOT medical examinations every two years before they are cleared to drive. This medical exam is supposed to catch health conditions that could disqualify individuals from obtaining or renewing a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
Certain health conditions may cause symptoms that increase the risk of causing a truck accident. For example, if a commercial driver suffers from a condition that causes drowsiness or poor vision, they are more likely to crash. These are only two examples. Unfortunately, existing regulations may not be able to address some of the most common and potentially hazardous health conditions within the trucking industry.
WHY CAN OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA CAUSE A TRUCK ACCIDENT?
A study released last year by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discovered that commercial drivers with untreated obstructive sleep apnea (the most common type of sleep apnea) are five times more likely than drivers without the condition to crash.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a common health condition that affects millions of Americans. People with this condition experience interruptions in breathing while they are sleeping. As a result, people with the condition may wake up several times per night. Constant interruptions in sleep may cause daytime drowsiness. This is why commercial truck drivers with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to cause fatigued driving accidents.
Truckers with obstructive sleep apnea are also at higher risk of developing secondary conditions that raise the risk of crashing. For example, untreated sleep apnea can increase the risk of suffering from a heart attack.
The FMCSA has not implemented a mandatory screening policy for obstructive sleep apnea. Such a rule would identify drivers who are at-risk of suffering from the condition so they could be diagnosed and treated. Sleep apnea is easy to screen for and even easier to treat.
WHY CAN DIABETES SYMPTOMS CAUSE A TRUCK ACCIDENT?
Secondary health conditions and symptoms caused by diabetes, a very common disease, can increase the risk of a truck accident. For example, as diabetes progresses, it can cause blurry or double vision. Poor vision is one of many early warning signs of untreated diabetes that may go unnoticed. For truck drivers, it may cause them to miss obstacles in the road or signs.
In addition, diabetes can raise the risk of developing sleep apnea and daytime drowsiness. A history of diabetes was one of the “at-risk” conditions the FMCSA considered when it was brainstorming a sleep apnea screening rule.
Even more dangerous is the possibility of a driver having a hypoglycemic episode while operating commercial vehicle. This is where the body’s blood sugar levels plummet. A driver having one of these episodes could be incapacitated while driving.
ARE THERE DISQUALIFYING HEALTH CONDITIONS FOR COMMERCIAL DRIVERS?
Certain health conditions may disqualify drivers from obtaining or renewing a CDL. However, drivers can in some cases receive a medical exemption from the FMCSA. Medical exemptions may clear drivers with diabetes, seizures, and hearing and vision loss.
In other cases, drivers may simply omit information during the DOT medical exam. Employers may also hire drivers with these conditions. There are many reasons why commercial truckers with dangerous health conditions could be found on roads across the country.
However, there are also cases where motorists injured by commercial truck drivers with certain health conditions could file lawsuits. For example, it may be possible to file a lawsuit if a trucking company hires a driver with a disqualifying health condition and that employee causes an accident. Unfortunately, there are many instances of drivers with dangerous health conditions causing crashes.
Stanley A. Davis is a car and truck accident lawyer who has been successfully representing injured drivers, passengers and taxi cab operators in the greater Nashville area since 1997. He offers free, no obligation consultations to discuss the aftermath of an auto accident. Stan was recently interviewed by Fox 17 News Nashville to discuss the problem of debris on the roads causing car accidents.