Sleep Apnoea and Driving
Driving requires skills that involve eye-hand coordination, accurate speed and calculations of directions. Driving entails full concentration as a driver constantly needs to survey the constantly changing road and its environment to make sure that the vehicle moves safely in the correct lane. Driving demands divided attention and to do this requires alertness and careful attention which can be a problem for patients with obstructive sleep apnoea/hypopnea.
Sleepiness and Accident Rates
There are studies that indicate the role of fatigue and sleepiness in 20% of driving mishaps and accidents. Sleepiness may be caused by sleep deprivation, long working hours, alcohol consumption, shift work, new baby in the family and sleeping disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea. Inattentiveness and daytime sleepiness due to OSA or any breathing-related sleep disorder is a major risk factor not only in traffic but also in industrial settings.
The abstract of another study (www.sciencedirect.com) signified that OSA patients have a higher number of self-reported accidents and off road incidents compared with a control group. It was concluded that self-reported sleepiness of patients with OSA while driving is a factor for increased risk in traffic accidents.
OSA and Impaired Driving
The part of OSA or any other sleeping disorder in traffic accidents has been recognized for over two decades now. It is a fact that OSA can greatly disturb sleep, resulting in extreme daytime sleepiness that could affect his driving.
A study indicated that drivers with OSA are two to three times more likely to get involved in vehicular accidents; six times more to figure in highway accidents and ten times more to figure in single-car accidents. However, it is not clear if it’s just sleepiness or a general impairment of driving skills of OSA patients that eventually leads to traffic accidents.
It must be noted that not all drivers with OSA are at extra risk of vehicular accidents as some of them do not present OSA symptoms.
This means that they are not particularly affected by the sleep disturbance they get. It is more likely that with some OSA patients, their breathing episodes do not actually wake the brain as much as in other people with OSA.
When to Stop Driving
Since not all people with OSA become sufficiently sleepy to affect their driving, not everyone with OSA has to stop driving. However, if the sleep disorder causes extreme daytime sleepiness, then driver must stop driving until he gets treatment.
Falling asleep on the wheel and causing an accident is a criminal offence that could possibly lead to a prison term if the accident is severe, involving disabling a person or loss of life. It does not matter if the sleepiness is brought about by a medical condition or sleep deprivation due to normal causes. The premise here is that people know that they are sleepy and therefore must have the common sense not to drive. In this connection, a driver with a diagnosed OSA has the responsibility to inform the DVLA of his medical condition to gauge if his driving is impaired or not. It is also the responsibility of the medical practitioner or sleep disorder clinician to advise the OSA patient if it’s necessary to inform the DVLA or not.
Have you been experiencing extreme daytime sleepiness and have ruled out the normal causes of sleep deprivation?
CPAP Victoria can help you. We have the qualification, experience and expertise to diagnose and present treatment options for your sleeping disorder.
Give us a call NOW at 1300 750 006 or pop into one of our CPAP Clinics Victoria . We are located in Melbourne, Wantirna and Frankston.