I wrote in a recent post that mandatory screenings for obstructive sleep apnea should be mandatory at certain milestones (school age, college, middle age). There’s lots of room for debate regarding the logistics, finances and implications of such a massive undertaking. However, there’s one group of people who should be tested, and these are our transit workers: pilots, bus drivers and train operators.
Many recent deadly accidents were attributed to possibly undiagnosed sleep apnea. A pilot of a commuter plane with 40 passengers fell asleep along with his copilot for at least 14 minutes. The number of train, bus and truck accidents are too numerous to mention.
Federal regulatory agencies have yet to enact rules to mandate screening for obstructive sleep apnea. They are, however, in discussions. In the long-distance trucking industry, certain large fleets have enacted their own screening programs, which has shown to dramatically lower accident rates and property damage.
With recent studies showing that reaction times with untreated sleep apnea being similar to being legally drunk, it’s surprising that mandatory screening has yet to be enforced with commercial pilots and drivers. Knowing that about 25% of the population has obstructive sleep apnea, of which 90% are undiagnosed, this is a frightening statistic. It’s much worse as one ages and becomes more obese.