Friday, January 24, 2014

Conflicting Results for Studies of Road Haulage Drivers with Sleep Apnoea Involved in Truck Crashes

Australian Report Goes Against Accepted Wisdom
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – WORLDWIDE – According to the a study reported by the Australian Trucking Association and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, sleep apnoea (apnea to our US readers) is not a major cause of truck crashes. The investigation, ‘The Role of Sleepiness, Sleep Disorders, and the Work Environment on Heavy-Vehicle Crashes in 2 Australian States’, carried out by staff at Monash University Accident Research Centre, Melbourne, found no direct link between the condition and the accident rate.

The study, headed up by lead author Dr Mark Stevenson, investigated the associations of sleepiness, sleep disorders, and work environment (including truck characteristics) with the risk of crashing between 2008 and 2011 in the Australian states of New South Wales and Western Australia. Drivers' crash histories, truck details, driving schedules, payment rates, sleep patterns, and measures of health were all collected in a case-control study of 530 heavy-vehicle drivers who had recently crashed and 517 heavy-vehicle drivers who had not.

Factors such as pulling unladen trailers, the lack of anti-lock brake systems and cruise control were found to have more effect than apnoea but it would be dangerous to assume that the condition does not affect the accident rate from these results. The study did discover that an alarmingly high proportion of drivers suffered with the problem, the result of which meant that they were arriving for shifts in a fatigued condition, a fact Dr Stevenson pointed out, saying:

“We did see a very high proportion of drivers who had or were likely to suffer from sleep apnoea in both our crash and control groups. These drivers can be coming to the job with sleep deprivation, which can definitely cause alertness issues behind the wheel. With regards to anti-lock braking systems and cruise control, clearly our work highlights that these devices are highly beneficial to the driving task and should be used and maintained regularly.”

Other facts which arose in the study, undertaken in New South Wales and Western Australia, was a prevalence of incidents between midnight and 6am and the likelihood of inexperience drivers being more prone to accidents. The results showed a driver with less than ten years driving professionally had triple the risk of an accident. Anyone interested in reading other reports on sleep apnoea should type the phrase into the News Search box at the top of the page.