Sleep Apnea Regulation: Safer Roads or More Red Tape?

Apparently the federal government is now looking at truck drivers with obstructive sleep apnea. In one sense, kudos to them. If drivers are unsafe, for whatever reason, they shouldn’t be driving. But my follow-up question is also valid, how many truck accidents were there where sleep apnea actually played a role?

Here’s the dumb math:

  • There are X number of accidents on highways every year.
  • There are Y number of miles being driven annually.
  • So there is 1 accident for every X/Y miles.
  • Since long-haul truckers drive the most miles. And since their vehicles are the heaviest, the slowest to stop, etc., they must also be the most dangerous vehicles and/or drivers on the road.
  • Therefore, if we can eliminate the most dangerous truck drivers we’ll save a bunch of lives!

My mom was pulling into a place of business earlier this week and she noticed a car driving towards her. The driver, having looked once and not seeing any danger, was looking over her shoulder at a child in the back seat. Now my mom’s Camry needs a new front bumper. Thankfully the other driver wasn’t going fast and no one was hurt.

Those are the unsafe drivers; the ones distracted by cell phones, radios, children, the ones without enough experience to know that there are times when you can take your eyes off the road and times when you cannot (don’t get preachy, it’s impossible to keep eyes glued to the road for more than even a few minutes). Professional truck drivers, statistically, are among the safest drivers on the road.

Should sleep apnea be monitored? Sure. And hypothetically, could some drivers be risking too much by continuing to drive in spite of severe or untreated sleep apnea? Obviously. But is this something where we may be creating additional bureaucracy and spending additional tax dollars while generating little-to-no results? Without seeing hard data, that’s what I believe.

I mentioned (mocked) the “dumb math” above. What would the smart math be?

  • Professional truck drivers drive X miles per year.
  • Professional truck drivers have Y accidents per year.
  • Sleep deprivation and/or fatigue played a part in Z of those Y accidents.
  • Of those Z accidents, A drivers have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and B show signs of sleep apnea.
  • Now we can look further at what to do with those drivers in that last grouping.

Sadly, the government regulatory institutions rarely act in such a nuanced manner.

The other part of this discussion is that we Americans, and sadly truck drivers are among the worst, need to get into better shape and eat healthier. This will reduce the sleep apnea and the dangerous conditions it can lead to.

Thanks for reading.

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