Travel Season Edition: Driving While Tired

Jun 27, 2019 | Blog, Monitoring, Sleep Apnea, Summer Sleep Tips, Transportation

Summer is in sight, and more Americans are vacationing this time of year than any other. That means more road trips, flights, and other fatiguing activities to challenge your dedication to your wellness. We will be keeping you updated in the coming months with some tips and facts to help you have a safe, healthy, and restful summer through all your travel plans!

Road trips with friends or family can be a great time, but it’s important to make safety a priority on the road. We’ve all seen drivers on the road late at night swerving a bit as they struggle to keep their eyes open. Even scarier is finding yourself in that position. No matter how we may try to fight it, we are worse drivers when we are tired.

Drowsiness inhibits drivers in several ways. This includes a decrease in paying attention, a slower reaction time, and poorer decision making. In the US, each year drowsy driving causes a startling number of road accidents: up to 1.2 million, with the death toll estimated between 5,000 and 8,000.

Myth: Drinking coffee, playing loud music, and rolling down the windows are all effective ways to combat drowsiness while driving.

Fact: Feeling drowsy can only be fixed by sleeping. If you feel drowsy while driving, pull over to rest or switch drivers.

Who are you more likely to encounter driving while drowsy? That would be people taking certain medications, shift workers, and commercial drivers, according to the CDC. It also includes people with undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep breathing disorder that about 1 billion people have worldwide.

Commercial truck drivers are the group most heavily studied for OSA, but research has come up with varying estimates of how many drivers have it. Estimates range from 78% of drivers having some type of sleep breathing disorder to 28.1% of truck drivers have a varying degree of OSA. Whether it’s one quarter or three-quarters of commercial drivers with sleep breathing disorders, this merits a response for the sake of safety.

The US Department of Transportation rule requiring OSA screening for commercial drivers was withdrawn in 2017, and no similar requirements have since been created. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration(FMCSA) notes that, “While FMCSA regulations do not specifically address sleep apnea, they do prescribe that a person with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any condition likely to interfere with their ability to drive safely cannot be medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce.”

This means that only new driver applicants with a prior medical record of a sleep disorder would be barred from entry. Concerningly, with an estimated 80% of moderate to severe sleep apnea cases undiagnosed, many applicants with undiagnosed OSA are clearly being approved for driving.

Myth: Truck and other commercial drivers are specially trained so they are less likely to fall asleep behind the wheel.

Fact: No regulations are in place preventing people with undiagnosed sleep disorders from becoming commercial drivers. So, while they may be more informed about driving safety than the average driver, they are still at risk.

Luckily, there are some reasons for hope in terms of reducing sleep-related accidents among commercial drivers. Ambulatory monitoring systems that collect electroencephalographic (EEG) and electrooculographic (EOG) data but these have yet to be implemented. Schneider won multiple awards for its sleep apnea screening and care program, which reduced sleep-related accidents by 44%. With almost 20,000 drivers on the road globally, that’s a notable safety improvement. However, Schneider only captures 3.21% of the trucking market, and we can only hope other industry giants follow their lead.

While most people are driving non-commercially, it is critical for all drivers to understand the safety factors at work on the road around them. Awareness is the greatest defense against road accidents, and we all play a part in each other’s safety. If you believe you may have a sleep disorder that can affect your driving, please visit your physician and refrain from getting behind the wheel until you are cleared. Drive safe this summer!