A survey of 905 Italian truck drivers has shown that approximately half have at least one sleep-related breathing problem that potentially can cause drivers to fall asleep at the wheel.
In a presentation at the European Respiratory Society International Congress entitled”Obstructive sleep apnoea screening the truck driver population,” Luca Roberti, president of Apnoici Italiani (the Italian Sleep Apnoea Patient Association), called for it to be made compulsory for European haulage companies to test drivers for sleep-related breathing problems.
“Considering that drivers are in charge of transport vehicles weighing several tons, companies have a great moral and civic responsibility to ensure their employees are safe to drive and are not at risk of suddenly falling asleep at the wheel. This would also be in line with European Union legislation that regulates the renewal of drivers’ licenses for people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea,” he said.
The European Union Directive 2014/85/EU, created to limit accidents arising from OSA, requires drivers with moderate or severe OSA to seek medical advice before their licenses can be issued or renewed; drivers may be advised not to drive until confirmation of a diagnosis and steps are taken to control the condition. One of the main risk factors for OSA is being overweight.
Roberti and colleagues conducted their study in 2018 after being asked by an Italian truck driver cooperative, Federtrasporti, to carry out a health survey of truck drivers. On 44 days between March and December, volunteer expert patients, doctors, and nurses questioned drivers at truck dealerships, 50 companies that were part of Federtrasporti, at driver training days and at a truck driver show.
They measured height, weight, and waist circumference, took details of medical conditions, such as diabetes, and of lifestyle factors, such as whether the drivers smoked or took drugs. They asked about their length of time as a haulier, distances covered, whether they drove national or international routes, and the types of goods they transported. Their questions about sleep included:
- do you sometimes stop breathing and have sleep apnea at night?
- do you snore?
- do you wake up needing to urinate urgently?