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Should School Boards Screen School Bus Drivers for Sleep Apnea?

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Kudos to the Marion County School Board for proactively making school buses safer for our kids! The School Board has recognized the dangerous effects that Sleep Apnea has on their school bus drivers by instituting screening and treatment for their at risk drivers.

Sleep Apnea is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. They may occur 30 times or more an hour. According to the National Institute for Health untreated sleep apnea can:

  • Increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes
  • Increase the risk of, or worsen, heart failure
  • Make arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, more likely
  • Increase the chance of having work-related or driving accidents

Raw data suggest that sleep apnea raises the risk that a person will be involved in a motor vehicle accident. New data not only confirm this finding, but show that sleep apnea patients are at very high risk of serious, life-threatening car wrecks.

Alan Mulgrew, MD, and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, compared the claims and accident records of 800 patients with confirmed sleep apnea with those of 800 people who did not have sleep apnea. Over the three years before their diagnosis, the sleep apnea patients were nearly five times more likely to have serious car crashes than were other drivers. Serious car crashes were defined as those with injury or head-on crashes. New evidence adds to the already compelling case that driving a car while not properly rested produces similar risks as driving drunk. The recent study was published in the journal Sleep and found people with obstructive sleep apnea were 2.5 times more likely to be the driver in an accident than people without the sleep disorder.

Insufficient sleep has been officially classified as a public health epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as nearly 40 percent of people report unintentionally falling asleep at least once in the past month. On their own, the dangers of sleep deprivation include a suppressed immune system and moderate cognitive impairment. But the risks increase even further when those setbacks are applied to a complex activity, like driving a car. In 2010, a study found 20 to 25 hours of sleep loss resulted in the same levels of depleted brainpower as a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.10.

Schools buses are commercial motor vehicles. Fatigued driving has been and remains the #1 safety hazard in the commercial motor vehicle driving statistics for decades. Understanding of the importance of recognition of sleepiness as a risk factor for safe driving and to encourage interventions to reduce risk involved in drowsy driving Congress unanimously approved a bill two years ago that required the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to establish rules that require drivers in the transportation industry to be screened for sleep apnea.

So, once again, hats off to the School Board of Marion County for working hard to keep our students safer!

Remember-be safe out there!!

Your accident and injury attorney, Marianne

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