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.