The John Lindsay Foundation
We recently attended the kickoff banquet for the John Lindsay Foundation. Going into the meeting my husband and I felt we knew quite a bit about sleep apnea because it is in our family. After seeing and hearing how many drivers are on our highways today, we both felt like we must have been living in a bubble. We never knew the statistics were so high in the amount of truckers that put us at risk each day. Nor did we know how long the legislation has been tinkering with this and not making it a mandation that CDL drivers be tested. For over 20 years !! We need to wake up people, and control our own destination !!
I was recently doing some research on trucker sleep apnea for a series of articles about a truck wreck in Texas. And I came across a San Antonio news article about this Foundation, and the effort to raise awareness about the problem. Then I noticed that a lot of the information I found on the web dismissed sleep apnea as a serious cause of truck wrecks. Most of these sources referred to a government study that similarly stated that no solid link could be made between sleep apnea and truck wrecks, except in cases of severe accident resulting from severe sleep apnea.
But when I looked at that government study, and read the methodology, I saw that the “fine print” basically said that the study had chosen to rely on a sample of primarily short-haul truckers operating in urban environments. The “fine print” went further to say that on short hauls, truckers would naturally tend to suffer less from the effects of sleep loss than those truckers driving long hauls. And it said that the stimulating driving conditions of the urban environment tended to combat the potential effects of sleep apnea by keeping truckers’ attention better.
So, in effect, the “fine print” said (in my opinion) that this major government study regarding the role of sleep apnea in causing truck wrecks was practically worthless for that purpose. The study’s fine print even went so far as to recommend a better study, more targeted to its purpose. I thought the methodology section was actually pretty straightforward in making these statements and I mentioned that in one of my own summaries of the issue: http://www.houston-personal-injury-law.com/library/are-truckers-with-sleep-apnea-more-likely-to-have-pearland-tx-wrecks.cfm.
Am I reading the methodology statement wrongly, or do people mostly just not read the fine print in the methodology section, and just rely on the government study’s summary of conclusions?
John Lindsay’s death was a preventable tragedy. My heart goes out to the family.
But, I would ask you to consider the problem of sleep apnea in commercial drivers from another perspective. I was a long haul over the road truck driver for 11 years. 9 of those years I was under treatment for sleep apnea. I had NO DOT reportable accidents in my entire career. Yet, I faced many practical, medical, and regulatory challenges. I still work in trucking as a driver manager where several of the drivers I manage are under treatment for sleep apnea. Studies have shown a driver with properly treated sleep apnea is safer than the general driver population.
My story started in 2002 when my mother-in-law read a Readers Digest article about sleep apnea which had a “Know your snore score” quiz which she passed on to my wife. Taking the snore score quiz to my family doctor he agreed and scheduled me for a sleep study. Monday night I was in a sleep lab, Tuesday I left out on a planned 2 week tour over the road. Thursday morning I got a call from the sleep doctor that I had moderate sleep apnea and would need to be scheduled for a follow-up titrating sleep study and get a CPAP. Back in 2002 the auto-titrating PAP now used were not available.
Thursday afternoon I met with my driver manager 350 miles from home to explain I had been diagnosed with sleep apnea and was on a waiting list for getting another sleep study to adjust the settings for a CPAP. I was told to plan on cleaning out my truck, loading all of my personal equipment on a Greyhound bus and go home. It was only with some major work I was even allowed to drive the 350 miles to get back home. My driver manager knew all about sleep apnea as he had severe sleep apnea.
Now off work without pay I spent the next 4 weeks waiting for a sleep study appointment, getting my CPAP, being on the CPAP for 7 days, and then getting a release to return to work. I incurred over $ 6,000 in sleep related medical bills. Luckily I had pretty good 80/20 health insurance coverage. Still 20% of $ 6,000 and being off work for a month but still needing to pay health insurance premiums left my family’s budget in shambles. Missing a couple of mortgage payments we almost lost our home.
I them faced the simple problem of: “Where do you plug in a CPAP in a sleeper berth equipped semi-truck?” Idling the main truck engine overnight uses large amounts of fuel. Most trucking companies have policies that tie bonuses to low idle. Needing the bonus money I tried my best to not idle sleeping in cold trucks waking up shivering due to the CPAP blowing cold air down my lungs, having untreated apnea symptoms due to the CPAP not working right with drained batteries, and almost ending up in the hospital. I made the personal decision that my health was more important.
I fought the administrative issues around idling within my company. I lost pay; pay raises, and had job transfer issues for my entire career. Other drivers with sleep apnea hearing about my issues began to call me for advice.
Just as the Lindsay Foundation speaks on the real problems the lack of clear regulations on sleep apnea testing and treatment cause in trucking, I began to speak on issues truck drivers with sleep apnea trying to do the right thing face in managing this easily treated condition.
Working at several major truck shows I have done free sleep apnea screenings for truck drivers. I have cried with proud truck drivers who know they probably have sleep apnea but could not afford even the $ 300 cost of a simple home sleep study. They cried because for the first time in their lives they were asking for charity. Getting donated CPAP masks to drivers who literally were using masks held together with duct tape, helping connect needy drivers with donated CPAP, and speaking on the truck driver’s perspective on this issue became my personal passion.
Active discrimination against truck drivers under current and effective treatment for sleep apnea exists within the trucking industry. Even though studies have shown a driver under effective treatment has fewer accidents. Stories like mine of not just being put on bus back home but being fired on the spot for doing the right thing and getting tested for sleep apnea abound. Drivers are scared to admit they might have sleep apnea and do the right thing and get the testing and treatment they need.
John Lindsay died a needless and tragic death. If someone had been able to get ahold of that Celadon driver and figuratively (or maybe literally) hit him upside the head with a baseball bat to explain what having sleep apnea and driving truck means possibly John’s death might have been avoided. Education and outreach to drivers along with clear medical certification regulations for sleep apnea are needed.
This is a complicated issue where issues as diverse as fuel economy standards for Class 8 trucks, air quality regulations, ADAA, HIPPA, and medical guidance all come together. Yet simple issues like where do you plug in a CPAP in a semi-truck get overlooked.
Hopefully groups like the Lindsay Foundation can become a voice in moving this issue toward some resolution.
I would just ask that the Foundation and others reading these comments also consider the drivers involved. We are not “killers” out trying to maim on the highways. We are working class folk trying to keep a roof over our families heads often while working long hours in hard conditions. Please keep that in mind as you work toward the goals of the foundation.
(just a truck driver with sleep apnea)
Co-coordinator Truckers for a Cause Chapter of A. W. A. K. E. a support group for truck drivers with sleep apnea.
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The John Lindsay Foundation is incorporated in Texas as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation and has received tax deductible 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation status with the IRS.
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