One of the reasons why sleep apnea rules for truckers have been so controversial is that we haven’t had good data about how much of a difference treatment makes. Now a new study tells us that it makes a huge difference: truckers who don’t get their sleep apnea treated are five times more likely to be involved in preventable accidents.

man sleeping in his car at the side of the road

A Mandatory Treatment Program

The current study is based on data from a large trucking firm that has a mandatory sleep apnea treatment program. Drivers who were diagnosed with sleep apnea had to accept treatment or face termination. This set up the conditions for monitoring all drivers for their compliance with sleep apnea treatment.

The study then looked at 1600 drivers who were diagnosed with sleep apnea and compared them with a control group of 1600 drivers who were not diagnosed with sleep apnea and had a low sleep apnea risk. They found that the control group and those who complied with sleep apnea treatment had about the same crash risk: about 14 preventable crashes per 1000 drivers per year. Those that didn’t use their sleep apnea treatment had about 70 preventable crashes per 1000 drivers per year.

Drivers that didn’t comply with their treatment program either quit (60%) or were fired.

Why We Need National Mandatory Treatment Policies

Researchers noted that most companies don’t have this kind of mandatory treatment program. Drivers that were fired or quit from this company likely went to work for another company that would let them keep driving without getting their sleep apnea treated. This could lead to high numbers of preventable crashes.

If we extrapolate the results of this study to the population of about 1.5 million truck drivers in the US, about a quarter of whom have sleep apnea, we could potentially reduce the number of truck-related crashes by 21,000 every year–nearly 10% of all large truck crashes in the US. That might save as many as 400 lives every year, as well as preventing about 13,000 injuries. These are rough estimates, but they show the magnitude of the problem we are dealing with here, and why it is unacceptable that truckers should be allowed to drive with a condition that dramatically increases their risk of accidents.

Why We Need More Flexible Treatment Options

Of course, it’s also unacceptable that drivers should be forced to subject themselves to a treatment that may not fit their needs. In this study, as in many other studies, the only treatment option available to truckers was CPAP, which has a very low compliance rate. None of the press releases discuss the actual compliance rate, but it was probably 50% or less. Truckers need to have options that let them choose the best sleep apnea treatment for them.

With the invention of oral appliances that can track usage, there is no excuse for not allowing truckers to use them, if they want. Oral appliances are as effective as CPAP for many cases of obstructive sleep apnea and should be better utilized.

If you are a trucker looking for a better sleep apnea treatment or if you work with truckers who find CPAP hard to use, we can help. Please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.