Asleep at the Wheel?
Sleep Loss and Fatigue
in Commercial Drivers
Researchers Suggest Specific Steps for the Trucking Industry to Improve Safety for Everyone On Our Roads
Truck drivers who routinely get too little
sleep or suffer from sleep apnea show signs of
fatigue and impaired performance that can make
them a hazard on the road, according to a major
new study by Penn Sleep Centers researchers Allan
Pack, Greg Maislin, Bethany Staley, Frances Pack,
Dinges and others. The study results, entitled “Impaired
Performance in Commercial Drivers: Role of Sleep
Apnea and Short Sleep Duration,” were published
in the August 15th issue of the American
Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
This study is among the largest and most comprehensive studies of truck drivers and fatigue ever done. Penn researchers examined 406 truck drivers and found that those who routinely slept less than five hours a night were likely to fare poorly on tests designed to measure sleepiness, attention and reaction time, and steering ability. Drivers with severe sleep apnea, a medical condition that causes a poor quality of sleep, also were sleepy and had performance impairment.
Allan Pack, MB, ChB, PhD, who headed the study, said the tired truck drivers had impaired performance similar to that of drivers who are legally drunk. “We identified some very impaired people,” said Dr. Pack, who directs Penn's Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology.
This study, headed by Dr. Allan Pack,
is among the most comprehensive studies
of truck drivers and fatigue ever
Nearly five percent of the truckers studied had severe sleep apnea, and about 13 percent of the drivers got fewer than five hours of sleep a night on a regular basis. “There are daytime neurobehavioral performance impairments that are found commonly in commercial drivers, and these are more likely among those who get an average of five or less hours of sleep a night and those who suffer from severe obstructive sleep apnea,” the researchers concluded.
According to the journal article, about 5,600 people are killed each year in the U.S. in crashes involving commercial trucks. Many of the crashes happen when the driver falls asleep at the wheel. Penn researchers are now suggesting specific steps for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to take to improve safety for everyone on our roads:
- Develop strategies to identify impaired drivers
through objective testing
- Implement programs to identify and test drivers
with severe sleep apnea and monitor that they
stick to their treatment
- Introduce programs to assess and promote
longer durations of sleep among commercial