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Could a Short Test Prevent a Texas 18 Wheeler Crash?

Posted on Sep 20, 2011
Safety experts and truckers alike agree that obesity alone is not the best way to determine a driver's risk for sleep apnea. Researchers at Harvard have come up with a test of attention, called a psychomotor vigilance test (PVT), that measures the reaction time of drivers. When this reaction time is too slow, it can signal sleepiness. Very often this sleepiness is caused by a lack of good, restful sleep due to obstructive sleep apnea. Too often, this sleepiness translates into drivers who fall asleep at the wheel or make bad driving choices. Sleepiness is a contributing factor in thousands of Texas semi truck crashes each year.

 

If it is found that the test is useful in identifying drivers who are suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnea, it may be used as part of the testing process that all truckers must participate in. The study's senior author, Stefanos N. Kales, is optimistic that the short test can be an effective way to stop drowsy drivers before they can hit the road.

 

"This novel use of PVT is extremely promising as a potential, 10-minute frontline check for sleepiness accomplished at professional drivers' federally mandated licensing exams," said Kales.

 

The hope is that once the test is in place, and parameters for a pass or fail are identified, the PVT will be a useful tool in pinpointing drivers who need a sleep evaluation before continuing to operate as commercial drivers.

 

Currently, the only risk factor used to identify drivers at risk for sleep apnea, and the accompanying daytime drowsiness, is obesity. While truck drivers, at a 40-50% obesity rate, are more likely to have sleep apnea, not enough of them are getting the sleep help they need. A 2009 study showed that drivers who are affected by obstructive sleep apnea underreport their symptoms and are not likely to follow through with sleep study referrals and treatments.

 

The staff and attorneys at the Hart Law Firm hope that the test will help identify drivers who may be too tired to drive, thereby preventing trucking crashes in Texas and across the nation.

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