Trucking Industry

Transportation Industry Standards

Drowsy driving is an underreported and underrecognized public safety issue. The role of sleepiness in the overall number of transportation accidents is not fully appreciated. It is estimated that in the United States there are approximately 4,800 fatal truck crashes each year and many more non-fatal crashes. In one study, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that fatigue plus alcohol or drugs accounted for a large portion of fatal-to-the-driver accidents. The NTSB also reported a probable cause of fatigue in 50% of accidents that led to a truck driver's death.

Driving while sleepy carries the same consequences as driving under the influence of alcohol and other substances. In fact, if a driver's impairment is determined to be due to sleep deprivation, the driver may be considered negligent, or even reckless, and can be held liable for civil and criminal penalties. However, sleepiness has no reliable objective measurement that can be performed at the site of an accident. Thus, the status of a patient's sleep deprivation must be inferred from the nature of the accident and the operator's prior sleep-wake schedule and travel log.

Over the last 15 years, the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has advanced legislation that governs maximum driving time for long-haul drivers. Currently, New Jersey is the only state that has a specific law under which a sleepy driver can be charged in a fatal crash (Maggie's Law). In January of 2008 an expert panel recommended specific guidelines on obstructive sleep apnea and commercial motor vehicle safety to the FMCSA. It is expected that in 2011 or 2012 many of these recommendations will be implemented. That guideline also lists the Standards and Guidelines for Sleep Apnea from other U.S. government transportation and safety agencies, as well as from select countries other than the United States. (

Our Sleep Center at Physicians East is keenly aware of the implications for drivers as well as employers in terms of available means of eliminating driver fatigue. At the Physicians East Sleep Center we certainly support a proactive approach to identifying driver fatigue and can develop programs that lessen potential medical and legal liability for individuals and their companies. It is certainly our hope that the processes move ahead whether mandated legally or not.

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