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Untreated sleep apnea boosts risks of truck accidents

The hazard we face on the road from drowsy drivers in Colorado is nothing new. This is something we noted in a post back in January. When the drivers involved happen to be operating big rigs, though, the risk of being sleepy behind the wheel escalates and the consequences can be even more disastrous.

Accidents involving semitractor trailers tend to be more deadly than the average motor vehicle accident. It's just a matter of physics. The vehicles are bigger; they're heavier; and once in motion they are a great deal harder to stop than smaller passenger vehicles. Indeed, one out of eight traffic deaths involve trucks.

What makes that statistic more disturbing is that many of the accidents probably could be prevented if some drivers would just use the devices that have been prescribed for them to treat obstructive sleep apnea.

According to some recently published research, commercial drivers who were diagnosed with OSA but refused to use positive airway pressure machines while they slept were up to five times more likely to be involved in serious truck accidents. That's compared with a control group of drivers who showed no indications of having sleep apnea.

For those who not know, sleep apnea is a condition that the National Institutes of Health say can increase risks of high blood pressure and heart attacks, stroke and diabetes. Those with it tend to be loud and constant snorers. At times, when they're asleep, they stop breathing until their brain kick starts them into action again.

Routine visits to the doctor aren't likely to result in a diagnosis. There's no blood test for it. It is something that could be found during the regular physicals that commercial drivers are now required to get to maintain their licenses, but federal rules don't require them.

The study authors say they feel their findings should be useful in spurring regulators to do take some action. But not much has happened so far, despite more than a decade of debate.

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