Woman believes trucker’s sleep apnea contributed to accident
A woman who suffered severe personal injuries in a truck accident is advocating for rules to be imposed on the commercial trucking industry to test and treat drivers for sleep apnea. Her mission is not based as much on the injuries she sustained, but more to commemorate her husband. The couple was in their car together, stuck in a traffic jam when the accident occurred. While both were taken to the hospital and placed in adjoining rooms in the Intensive Care Unit, the woman’s husband died as a result of his injuries days after the crash.
The woman filed a lawsuit related to the truck accident. She learned from the investigation in preparation for trial that the truck driver had been diagnosed with sleep apnea two months before the fatal wreck. Sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder in which airway blockages create brief pauses in breathing during sleep, thereby disrupting sleep patterns and causing people to be more tired during waking hours. As a result, truck and other commercial vehicle drivers who have the disorder have an increased risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.
The events began on a sunny spring day last year. The woman and her husband were enjoying each other’s company on a day trip that spring day. However, they were slowed down by a construction zone traffic jam. They had a brief conversation about the delay, but were both enjoying their time together and were not in any hurry. While they sat stopped in traffic on the Interstate, an 18-wheeler slammed into the rear of their vehicle. Police estimate the truck was barreling down the highway at 73 miles per hour when it hit the car.
The trucker says he glanced away from the road briefly to look at a separate accident. When he looked up and saw the traffic jam, he claims he attempted to stop, but was unable to in time. He says he had the cruise control set at 65 miles per hour when the truck accident occurred.
The woman’s lawsuit claims the police estimate that the truck was moving 73 miles per hour on impact and the 40-foot skid marks that were left on the pavement before the fatal accident, suggest that the involved more than a brief glance away from the road before the accident occurred.
The woman’s lawsuit related to the truck accident remains pending. However, in the meantime, she has created a foundation seeking to have rules created to detect and treat sleep apnea in the commercial trucking industry. She plans to testify in December at a hearing conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The FMCSA has considered creating rules for the commercial driving industry regarding sleep apnea, but reportedly has not yet imposed any rules. The National Transportation Safety Board has urged mandatory sleep apnea testing for commercial drivers, ranging from bus drivers to truckers to even pilots and ship captains.