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Could sleep apnea tests prevent accidents from sleep deprivation?

North Carolina train conductors, truck drivers and bus drivers operate gigantic and potentially dangerous machinery every single day. These individuals often drive for long hours without many breaks and it is not uncommon for them to fall asleep behind the wheel. When a train or car accident occurs as a result of sleep deprivation, the consequences can be catastrophic and deadly.

Some of these accidents are caused by drivers made sleepy by sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is not only easy to diagnose, but it is also treatable. Nevertheless, many drivers are unaware that they have the problem. For example, a train driver in the northeast, who was later found to have undiagnosed sleep apnea, caused a train accident that left four people dead and 63 injured after he fell asleep behind the wheel.

Fortunately, some employers are taking action to curb the problem before these kinds of accidents occur. One trucking company even has a sleep lab to identify drivers who suffer from the condition. This is helpful because most people who have sleep apnea do not even know it. A 30-year-old school bus driver form Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, fell asleep while driving a busload of school kids. She said that if she had known she had sleep apnea ahead of time, she probably would not have gotten into such a dangerous situation.

The National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that laws be created to test school bus drivers, train conductors, truck drivers and pilots for sleep apnea. However, the organization says that their recommendations are not being implemented quickly enough. Nevertheless, opponents to such legislation say that the cost of sleep apnea testing is high and there are too many other reasons why individuals fall asleep at the wheel.

In certain cases, drivers who cause North Carolina car or truck accidents because they negligently drove while sleep deprived can be held liable for the injuries and damages they cause. Nevertheless, the strength of a personal injury claim arising from such an incident will depend largely on the unique facts and circumstances surrounding the crash.

Source: ABC News, "Asleep at the Wheel: Could Mandating Sleep Apnea Tests for Transportation Operators Reduce Accidents?", June 27, 2014

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