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Popular health news television shows and magazine articles in recent years have brought the problem of sleep apnea to the public attention.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes interruptions of breathing while asleep. A person with apnea may breathe normally for part of the night, and then stop breathing for a period of several seconds to over a minute. A person with apnea may stop breathing 400 times during the night. This constant interruption in sleep means that the body does not get sufficient rest, leaving the person fatigued and groggy the next day.

Apnea has been linked to a variety of other medical ills. Untreated sleep apnea has been identified as a factor in high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, strokes, adult asthma, depression and other mood disorders, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, or acid reflux), and other ailments. Oh, and add traffic accidents to the list: the persistent fatigue associated with apnea makes a driver five times more likely than a person without the disease to cause an auto accident.

What most people haven’t heard is this: there is an epidemic of sleep apnea among truck drivers in the United States.

Is this something we really have to worry about?

You’d better believe it’s worth your concern. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—the most common form of the disease—is considered a serious risk on the road. The Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations specifically bars truckers with an untreated illness or fatigue from driving. In late 2011, the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and the Medical Review Board issued a joint recommendation proposing that truck drivers be screened for the illness, with “immediate disqualification of a driver” if certain conditions are met.

A 2002 study for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that over 28 percent of the truck drivers studied had at least mild sleep apnea. More recently, a study of Australian truck drivers published in the journal Sleep in April 2012 found that 41 percent of those drivers have obstructive sleep apnea. The most striking fact from the Australian study was that less than five percent of the drivers previously were diagnosed with the disorder.

What can be done?

Truck drivers have a lifestyle that promotes weight gain, a key trigger for obstructive sleep apnea. They sit down while working; they often eat foods high in calories, fats, and sugars; and they rarely have time for proper exercise or regular visits to the doctor. Until the culture of trucking changes, we cannot hope that the apnea problem will go away.

If you have been injured in a North Carolina truck accident caused by a drowsy truck driver, your decision to hold the driver accountable is a positive step for you and a warning to the trucking industry that this problem must not be ignored. If a trucking company employs the driver, that company also may be liable for its negligence in allowing a driver with apnea to get behind the wheel.

Call the Speaks Law Firm today at 910-341-7570 (local) or 877-593-4233 (statewide toll-free) to schedule a conference with an experienced Wilmington truck accident lawyer. As always, your first consultation with our North Carolina personal injury attorneys will be FREE and confidential. As your legal representatives, we promise we will get you the best compensation available for your medical bills, disability, and other losses.