Safety & Compliance

NIOSH Study Points to Significant Health Risks for Long-Haul Drivers

January 14, 2014

By Oliver Patton

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Long-haul drivers are plagued by significant health risks, according to a new study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

Almost 70% of these drivers are obese, compared to 31% of other workers, and the prevalence of morbid obesity is twice as high, 17% versus 7%.

Adding to their challenges, more than half of these drivers (51%) are cigarette smokers, compared to 19% of other workers.

And a significant percentage of them do not have health insurance or a health care plan: 38% versus 17% of others.

Karl Sieber of NIOSH laid out these details Tuesday in a presentation at the Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, D.C.

NIOSH is the federal agency responsible for research and recommendations to prevent work-related injury.

The information was gathered in interviews with 1,670 long-haul drivers at 32 truck stops in 20 states.

The drivers were selected on the basis of four considerations. Truck driving had to be their main occupation. Their vehicle had to have three or more axles. They had to have at least a year of experience. And they had to take at least one mandatory 10-hour rest period away from home during each run.

The results of these interviews were compared to a statistical sample of working adults collected annually by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Besides the propensity toward obesity and smoking, the survey found a high incidence of self-reported diabetes, 14% versus 7% among other workers. And fewer long-haul drivers described themselves as healthy: 84% said their health was excellent, very good or good, compared to 94% of other workers.

The drivers offered varying reports on the amount of sleep they get.

  • 27% said they get 6 or less hours in a day, compared to 30% of others.
  • 51% said they get 6-8 hours, compared to 64%.
  • 22% said they get more than 8 hours, compared to 5%.

In a preliminary look at sleepiness, the study found 15% of the drivers showed signs of sleep apnea, and 59% probably had some respiratory disturbance.

The study also looked at the effect of sleepiness, finding that 34% of drivers either nod off or fall asleep while driving. Seven percent of the drivers said they feel very drowsy almost every day.

Eighty-eight percent of the drivers had one or more of the three risk factors of hypertension, smoking or obesity, compared to 54% of other workers.

Nine percent of the drivers had all three factors, compared to 2% of others.

Fewer drivers, 4% compared to 7%, reported having heart disease. But twice as many, 14% compared to 7%, reported having diabetes. That may have something to do with truck drivers with diabetes having to obtain medical clearance to work, Sieber said.

Almost twice as many truck drivers, 18% compared to 10%, reported delaying or not getting health care in the previous year.

The drivers work long: 61 hours a week is the mean. Most, 78%, drive alone. Eighteen percent had not slept at home in the last month. Forty-five percent had slept 1 to 6 times at home in the month, and 37% had slept at home 7 or more days.



  1. 1. Big yellower [ January 15, 2014 @ 03:19AM ]

    Their study seems flawed . I would say it's a 50/50 split on obese to physically fit. If they would stop using that stupid BMI. Chart . You have to factor in body type. There's 3 of them.
    Myself I've done this 18 yrs, 6years regional OTR. 12 years local. I eat better on the road then at home. Plus I got kettle bells and weight rubber bands. I workout when I can.
    It's just having balance in your routine as a driver for work, eating, exercising, downtime. I'm usually out 3 months at a time. Then 2 weeks to a month off. When on Downtime is 1st is resting/ relaxing, 2nd getting paper work (office work) caught up, 3rd work on equipment . This life is what you make of it..

  2. 2. Fernando Montemayor [ January 15, 2014 @ 09:14AM ]

    For some time I have had the idea of ​​a solution to the problem of obese operators and this is put into the truck stop small gyms to perform some exercises before restarting some books giving the operator agunos incentives for doing such exercises as points they give when they take diesel, plus get some other benefits as do more exercise.

  3. 3. Joe Rajkovacz [ January 15, 2014 @ 02:47PM ]

    I wonder if NIOSH actually determined whether many of the drivers they interviewed were actually hired/brought into the industry significantly overweight to begin with? That unanswered question matters a whole lot when studies like this may well be used to drive more regulation of the industry based on the idea that simply driving a truck destroys ones health. Maybe, maybe not.

  4. 4. Douglas P. St5anfel [ January 18, 2014 @ 04:31PM ]

    Once again another study that makes no sense. First I am a driver of 40 + years and as was stated before lets look at the type of driver that has been hired in the past 15 years. I also do want to hear about diet at truck stops or fast food, All offer heart and weight health meals. Also quit parking in the fuel island, park in the back lot AND WALK IN. This is one of the best ways to keep in shape. There are lots of driver in very good shape but they do not make the news.


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