The Federal government says it is getting serious about screening truck and bus drivers, pilots, train engineers and merchant sailors for obstructive sleep apnea. The National Transportation Safety Board has just sent letters to the federal agency that regulates bus and truck safety and the U.S. Coast Guard citing accidents in which sleep apnea was a factor. The sleep disorder that causes pauses in breathing, which can interrupt sleep and increase daytime fatigue.
As long as I can remember, the NTSB has reporting auto related deaths from sleep related issues. The only reason sleep apnea and accidents has become news again is due to the recent number of incidents reported in the press:
_ In January 2008, a motor coach with passengers returning from a weekend ski trip went tumbling down a mountainside, killing nine people and injuring 43 others. It was discovered that the driver had sleep apnea but did not use his CPAP. (Many people hate their CPAP so much that no matter what the potential consequences are to themselves or to others, just will not use it.)
_ The same month, two GO! airlines pilots conked out during a midmorning flight from Honolulu to Hilo, Hawaii, as their plane continued to cruise past its destination and out to sea. Air traffic controllers were finally able to raise the pilots, who turned the plane around with its 40 passengers and landed it safely. The captain was later diagnosed with sleep apnea.
_ A trolley train that crashed into another train in May 2008 in Newton, Mass. Investigators said the driver likely fell asleep because she suffered from sleep apnea, but it could not be proved because she died.
_ In November 2001, a train engineer who drove through a stop warning in Clarkston, Mich., striking another train and killing two crew members. He was found to be a high risk for sleep apnea, but had not been diagnosed or treated.
_ In June 1995, a cruise ship maneuvering through Alaska’s Inside Passage was grounded on a submerged, but charted and marked rock by a pilot later diagnosed with sleep apnea. The ship was carrying about 2,200 people.
It is estimated that 18-million people in the United States suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, but up to 90% of those people have never even had a diagnosis.
Mark Rosenker, a former NTSB acting chairman, said the issue has long been a concern of the board, but the go! airlines incident jarred board members. “Obviously when two pilots fall asleep in the cockpit and they miss their stop that triggers a lot of interest at NTSB,” Rosenker said. Yeah, right!
Do you know that the first airplane hijacking in which someone was killed was on 5 July 1972; Pacific Southwest 737-200; San Francisco, CA. In 1992, the film “Passenger 57” involved a hijacking of a plane. Yet it took September 11, 2001 to finally get governments around the world to mandate the installation of bulletproof cockpit doors.
Don’t place any bets on this happening soon.