Drivers paying steep price for apnea tests

ARLINGTON, VA – Truck drivers are paying a real price for the screening and treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apena (OSA), a condition that obstructs breathing patterns and can wake sufferers hundreds of times per night, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has found.

The review of more than 800 commercial drivers quantifies costs and other impacts of driver screening for the first time, ATRI adds.

Fifty-three percent of the drivers who had been referred to sleep studies had paid some or all of the costs, averaging US $1,220 (Cdn $1,580) in out-of-pocket expenses. That’s the equivalent of 1.5 weeks of median driver pay, the research institute says.

The 41% of drivers who took time off work for the sleep apnea screening missed out on anywhere from one to 30 days of work time.

The most common treatment for those diagnosed with sleep apnea was a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine, which keeps airways open while auser sleeps. “This includes drivers in the ATRI sample diagnosed with mild sleep apnea, a condition that does not require treatment for medical certification,” ATRI found.

Only 1.95% of those who were diagnosed with moderate or severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea skipped their treatment. But the difference realized through any treatment varied on the level of the problem. Those with severe forms of the condition reported more sleep (84%), feeling better when they wake up (71%), and lower blood pressure (75%). Less than a third of those who had mild sleep apnea reported better sleep because of a CPAP machine.

Just under two-thirds (64%) of the drivers tested for sleep apnea believe the U.S. Department of Transportation guidelines are too broad. Neck circumference and Body Mass Index are both used when deciding whether a driver needs to be screened.

An earlier University of Pennsylvania study — sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations — found that 28% of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea.

For a copy of ATRI’s white paper, visit


John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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