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Untreated sleep apnea linked to higher truck accident rates

A serious traffic accident can change lives in an instant. That's especially true for crashes involving large commercial trucks, which are no match for passenger vehicles that are 20 to 30 times smaller. While we know some crashes are hard to avoid, such as those caused by poor weather conditions or wildlife suddenly appearing on the road, far too many accidents in Florida are easily foreseeable and preventable.

A recent study examined a common cause of commercial truck accidents: sleep apnea. The most common form of this oft-undiagnosed medical condition, obstructive sleep apnea, causes the airway to collapse or become blocked, leading to shallow or paused breathing. This disrupts normal sleep patterns, causing sleepiness during daytime hours. 

The prevalence of this disorder among commercial truck drivers has come to light in recent years, and the data is unsettling. Up to 28 percent of these drivers suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, a statistic undoubtedly linked to the nearly 9,000 traffic deaths caused by drowsy truck drivers between 2004 and 2013.

The aforementioned study compared two groups of commercial truckers, those diagnosed with sleep apnea and those who were unlikely to have it based on a screening test. Researchers found that sleep apnea-afflicted truckers who followed a medical treatment plan had the same rate of accidents as the truckers without the condition. Those who were diagnosed with sleep apnea but failed to follow a doctor's orders had much higher crash rates -- about five times the rate of those in the first group.

The good news is that federal agencies are sharing information about this highly preventable accident cause and pushing for changes within the trucking industry. Some companies are taking heed, supplying workers with screening tests and even breathing devices to ensure they aren't part of the problem. But not everyone is on board. Commercial trucking lobbyists have fought against laws or safety regulations that might cost money for trucking companies to put in place.

It's hard to believe that anyone would object to doing what's possible to curb traumatic injuries and lost lives, but the reality is that even preventable accidents are likely to continue. Fortunately, victims of accidents caused by drowsy truck driving and other negligence do have recourse. A law firm that focuses on motor vehicle accidents can more easily determine exactly what types of negligence were involved and move forward with the most effective claim or lawsuit.

No one should suffer the consequences of an accident that could have easily been avoided. Studies like the one discussed here should encourage victims to confidently and aggressively seek the compensation they deserve.

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