The driver in the December 1 Metro-North derailment that killed four and injured 75 will be tested for sleep apnea. The role of sleep apnea in this crash may help to determine future guidelines for commercial drivers with the condition.

Circumstances May Suggest Sleep Apnea

Driver William Rockefeller failed to slow the train down as it entered a dangerous curve, causing the derailment. In the section of the track where the derailment occurred, trains are supposed to slow from 75 mph to 30 mph. However, this train went through the curve at 82 mph. Why he failed to slow the train varies from person to person.Rockefeller says he was “in a daze.” A union official close to him says he “basically nodded,” just before the crash.

Rockefeller had just changed shifts, and apparently he was having trouble adapting to the morning schedule. It may be that shift-work disorder was the problem, but perhaps not. Although he was sleepy, it wasn’t because he hadn’t had enough time to sleep, which has been confirmed both by union officials and by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

With sleep apnea, though, it doesn’t matter how much time you give yourself to sleep, you will still feel tired. This is because sleep apnea causes you to partially wake numerous times during the night, though you may not be aware of it. It may occur hundreds of times per night.

Sleep Apnea and Transportation Safety

Currently, several branches of the federal government are trying to develop sleep apnea safety guidelines, most prominently the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA). These would call for powerful screening practices and treatment guidelines to ensure that drivers with sleep apnea were not allowed to be in the air or on the road.

Studies of noncommercial drivers show that drivers with sleep apnea may be from 2 to 5 times more likely to be involved in an accident, with even more increased odds for being involved in a serious accident.

Studies of commercial drivers are more mixed. They often don’t show a significant effect. Other times they show a slight effect. And still other times, they show an increased risk for serious accidents, but basically the same for all accidents.

Do You Find Yourself Driving Drowsy or Falling Asleep at the Wheel?

One of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea is daytime sleepiness, often with dozing off in the middle of unstimulating tasks during the day, such as driving or watching TV. If this describes you, it may only be a matter of time before you’re involved in an accident.

Sleep apnea treatment reduces your risks. To learn more, please contact Dental Excellence of Blue Bell in Philadelphia today for an appointment.