Sleep Apnea Treatment Reduces Severe Crash Risk, Study Finds

March 21, 2016

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Photo: Virginia Tech
Photo: Virginia Tech

Drivers with sleep apnea have a five times greater risk of a severe crash when they do not adhere to a mandated treatment program, according to a study co-authored by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Researchers found that in a group of 1,000 truck drivers working for a year, the drivers with obstructive sleep apnea who refused treatment had 70 preventable serious truck crashes, compared with 14 crashes experienced by an equal-sized group that adhered to treatment or did not have the condition at all.

The study compared more than 1,600 drivers with obstructive sleep apnea with an equal number of drivers who did not have the condition. Drivers with the condition were provided auto-adjusting positive airway pressure treatment and objectively monitored, according to researchers.

"Previous research has shown that obstructive sleep apnea is among the most common causes of excessive drowsiness or fatigue in the daytime, so this new analysis really underscores the risk truck drivers diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea assume if they choose not to adhere to a treatment program," said Erin Mabry, co-author of the research article and a senior research associate with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute's Center for Truck and Bus Safety.

The study also found that drivers who did not follow administered treatment were retained at a fleet only one-third as long as drivers who did adhere to treatments. As many as 60% of drivers who chose not to accept mandated treatment quit voluntarily before being discharged.

"These results are important because, currently, drivers who are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea at a specific trucking firm with an internal mandated treatment program, and who choose not to accept treatment, can just quit and hire on with a firm that does not have such a program," said Jeff Hickman, one of the study co-authors and a research scientist with the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. "Given the amount of job turnover in parts of the trucking industry, we can reasonably assume these drivers are going to drive for another firm.”

Data collection and statistical analysis was performed by the Truckers and Turnover Project research team at the University of Minnesota-Morris. The project was funded by Schneider, the University of Minnesota-Morris and the university's Roadway Safety Institute. Treatment was covered without out-of-pocket costs to drivers under Schneider’s employee health insurance.

Virginia Tech researchers collaborated on interpreting the results and writing an article that appeared in the journal Sleep along with representatives from the Harvard Medical School and Precision Pulmonary Diagnostics.


  1. 1. Cliff Downing [ March 22, 2016 @ 04:45AM ]

    While I do not dispute that those with sleep apnea that adhere to their treatment regimen do actually have fewer safety issues, I do dispute that the determination of those who do have sleep apnea is skewed in favor of those that have a vested interest in promoting and inflating the problem and benefit financially from getting as many diagnosed with sleep apnea as possible. In many ways, it comes across as the latest scare du jour that takes advantage of the "at risk fallacy" that is so prevalent nowadays.

  2. 2. Lonnie Hoepf [ March 22, 2016 @ 09:13AM ]

    The best defense against drowsy drivers has been taken away by the powers that be, but have no clue what it is like to make a living driving a CMV. Give the driver back the latitude of splitting sleeper berth time in a reasonable manner. Let drivers take the 10 hour break in increments of 5/5 or 4/6, so if they are feeling tired they can take a good nap and not be penalized by the 14 hour rule.

  3. 3. Joseph G Knudson [ March 22, 2016 @ 10:28AM ]

    I agree that sleep apnea is a problem but nowhere in the articles do I see anything about the people who can't tolerate a CPAP machine. When I was trying to use one I was told the success rate is 50%, that is also a 50% failure rate. .

  4. 4. Ryan Lewis [ March 22, 2016 @ 10:55AM ]

    I don't think CPAP has a 50% failure rate. Most sleep apnea patients benefit from it. I think CPAP therapy has about a 20% failure rate because some people just cannot tolerate having air pressure down their throat. I took an epworth questionnaire about my symptoms at <a href="">Apnea Pros</a>

  5. 5. Tim C [ March 26, 2016 @ 08:58AM ]

    The article states that "the drivers with obstructive sleep apnea who refused treatment had 70 preventable serious truck crashes, compared with 14 crashes experienced by an equal-sized group that adhered to treatment or did not have the condition at all.". This is a clear case of claiming correlation equals causation.

    Did the drivers travel the same routs on the same days at the same times?

    Did the drivers carry the same loads and were they driving the exact same equipment? If not why not? Can you really claim the study valid if the two groups were different to that degree.

    One also has to take into consideration that the vast majority of accidents, even "preventable" ones, are truly the fault of the less than attentive driver of the other non commercial vehicle involved.

    I also find it very telling that no links to the actual study are provided in this article or at the site for the link that was provided. Got something to hide?

    When a government seeks to further its power over an industry, can a study by an organization that receives funding from that same government really be seen as objective? Can you really be surprised that the results agree with the government's claims?


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