These days, everyone in the trucking industry is talking about sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a common but serious disorder, especially in those who are overweight. Those with sleep apnea either stop breathing or only take shallow breaths, or takes pauses in their breathing, up to 20-30 times an hour.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. With obstructive sleep apnea, you are not able to get enough air through your nose and mouth. When that happens, the amount of oxygen in your blood may drop. Normal breaths resume with a snort or choking sound. People with sleep apnea often snore loudly. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.
When your sleep is interrupted throughout the night, you can be drowsy during the day. People with sleep apnea are at higher risk for car crashes, work-related accidents and other medical problems.
According to Harvard Medical School Professor Charles Czeisler, the crash risk for a person with sleep apnea is 242% higher than a person without it.
It is estimated that 30-40% of truckers have sleep apnea. The condition can be treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
“Fatigue and driver health are two serious issues facing the trucking industry,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said. “However, as important as it is to address those issues, it is equally important for the federal government to use the regulatory process – with its emphasis on science-based outcomes and cost-benefit analyses.”
Last year, the FMCSA and the Medical Review Board recommended truckers with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher, be tested for sleep apnea.Read more about sleep apnea here.
Each state sets its own medical standards for driving a commercial motor vehicle in intrastate commerce. Many States have adopted the medical regulations found under Section 391.41(b)(5) of the FMCSRs and have determined that sleep apnea is a disqualifying condition. Each State has the jurisdictional authority to suspend a CDL if a person has sleep apnea. Medical examiners and CMV drivers should check with their Department of Motor Vehicles for more information about medical standards in their State.
Are You At Risk for Sleep Apnea?
- A family history of sleep apnea
- Being overweight
- A large neck size (17 inches or greater for men, 16 inches or greater for women)
- Being age 40 or older
- Having a small upper airway
- Having a recessed chin, small jaw or a large overbite
- Smoking and alcohol use
What does the FMCSA say about driving with sleep apnea?
While FMCSA regulations do not specifically address sleep apnea, they do prescribe that a person with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any condition likely to interfere with their ability to drive safely cannot be medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce.
However, once successfully treated, a driver may regain their “medically-qualified-to-drive” status. It is important to note that most cases of sleep apnea can be treated successfully.
Because each State sets its own medical standards for driving a CMV in intrastate commerce, check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles for regulations in your State.
What happens if I have the risk factors of sleep apnea?
The FMCSA states:
Drivers should be disqualified until the diagnosis of sleep apnea has been ruled out or has been treated successfully. As a condition of continuing qualification, it is recommended that a CMV driver agree to continue uninterrupted therapy such as CPAP, etc. / monitoring and undergo objective testing as required.
A driver with a diagnosis of (probable) sleep apnea or a driver who has Excessive Daytime Somnolence(EDS) should be temporarily disqualified until the condition is either ruled out by objective testing or successfully treated.
A driver who has been suspected of having sleep apnea may be forced to undergo a sleep study. The cost of the sleep study can range in price from $2,000 to $3,500.
If you’re found to have sleep apnea, and a sleep study doctor feels you should be placed on a CPAP machine, the device could cost you an additional $150 to $5,000, depending on the model and insurance coverage.