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Can a sleep apnea diagnosis signal a driving risk?

On Behalf of | May 9, 2022 | Car Accidents

Safety experts, law enforcement and insurance carriers caution drivers to stay attentive behind the wheel. Through television commercials, safety campaigns and informational pamphlets, these organizations often link risky behaviors to driving challenges. From distracted driving to impaired driving, motorists are aware of the dangers they face on the roads. Unfortunately, a medical condition can also increase their risk of deadly motor vehicle collisions.

While older drivers tend to exhibit the safest driving habits, they also face skills deterioration and health challenges that quickly offset their safe habits with dangerous risks. Sleep apnea, for example, is a condition highlighted by feelings of tiredness, blurred perceptions and slowed reactions even after what they think is a restful sleep. The condition causes victims to briefly stop and restart breathing potentially hundreds of times each night. This lack of restful sleep can cause an individual to struggle with chronic tiredness no matter how many hours they sleep at night.

How is this tied to risky driving?

Many estimates note that between 30% and 50% of older adults struggle with mild sleep apnea. This means an individual experiences between 5 to 15 breathing interruptions per hour. This can lead to morning headaches, excessive daytime sleepiness and difficulty staying focused on tasks. Unfortunately, these symptoms can create a dangerous driving environment.

Researchers paired up participants in ongoing sleep apnea studies with technology to monitor their driving habits. The researchers installed a chip into the participant’s personal vehicles designed to monitor driving habits for a year. The chip was set to record instances of hard braking, sudden acceleration and speeding. Over the course of the study, the researchers collected driving data on more than 100,000 trips in vehicles across the studies.

Was there a link?

Unfortunately, comparing the results of the sleep apnea study with the results of the monitoring chip, researchers found that drivers who experienced more sleep interruptions during the night also exhibited more risky driving behaviors during the day. They noted that instances of hard braking, sudden acceleration or speeding increased by 27% for every eight breathing interruptions experienced per hour.

Numerous factors can contribute to drowsy driving. From sleep apnea and insomnia to prescription medication and allergy treatments, drivers often get behind the wheel suffering from tiredness or fatigue. Unfortunately, these drivers can cause serious motor vehicle collisions resulting in devastating injuries.


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