Facing potentially costly requirements for testing and treatment for sleep apnea, it is understandable that truckers have and continue to push back against regulations. But the latest attack on sleep apnea requirements falls short. Not only does it make no logical sense, it also privileges the costs to the trucking industry over the costs everyone suffers as a result of truck accidents.
Arguments That Undermine Themselves
Recently, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) published a report dubiously entitled “The Truth about Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” In it, they make several claims in an attempt to show that sleep apnea regulations are unnecessary and unnecessarily costly. Unfortunately, they fail to make a sensible argument to support their case.
For instance, they claim that the science doesn’t support an association between sleep apnea and crashes. Although the FMCSA’s own studies haven’t yet made this association, there are plenty of other studies showing that sleep apnea increases a driver’s risk of crashing, by about five times.
To try to further show there’s no need for regulation, they note that “According to the OOIDA Foundation’s own research, however, those owner-operators who are currently receiving treatment for obstructive sleep apnea have a crash rate of 0.36 crashes per million vehicle miles traveled, which is four times better than the national average of 1.47.” In other words, if a driver gets treatment for sleep apnea, their crash risk drops by about 75%! That’s very close to the results of an independent study showing an 80% reduction in crash risk with sleep apnea treatment.
Doesn’t this show that, far from stopping treating sleep apnea, we should expand it to the roughly 80% of sleep apnea sufferers who are currently undiagnosed?
Promoting Their Profits over Your Costs
The other problem with the report is that it pretends that the trucking industry is the only one facing costs related to truck crashes. They cite the expenses they face for screening and treating sleep apnea as ranging from “$740 million to $2.07 billion or $7.7 billion to $12.8 billion.”
Even if we accept these highly inflated estimates at face value, they are only a fraction of the cost that trucking accidents may result in every year. If we take the average cost of a trucking accident as about $148,000, then in 2014 trucking accidents likely cost the economy over $70 billion, much of that borne by families whose sole breadwinners died in an accident, some of whom were truckers. Even at the much lower average cost estimate of $59,000 per truck accident, trucking accidents cost us over $25 billion a year, double the highest potential cost cited by the OOIDA.
Looking at these figures, it’s clear that we have a lot more to gain than we do to lose from screening and treating sleep apnea in truckers.
Life Is a Pearl of Great Price
We understand that it can be hard to make sense of all these estimated dollar costs, so let’s put them aside for a moment. Let’s just talk about the human cost of sleep-apnea related trucking accidents. Every year, trucking accidents kill more than 4000 people. Fathers, mothers, children, entire families are lost. And this is something that no amount of money can replace. The OOIDA’s figures show we might be able to cut this figure by 75%, saving thousands of people a year with sleep apnea treatment. That’s priceless.
But we think that truckers will discover, as other companies have, that sleep apnea treatment doesn’t cost money, it saves money. And if we can save lives and save money at the same time, why should anyone object?