• Truck Drivers and Sleep Apnea: Federal Agency Looks at Safety Issues

• Senate Bill Would Allow Heavier Trucks on the Road

• Effective Motorcycle Safety





Truck Drivers and Sleep Apnea: Federal Agency Looks at Safety Issues


A panel of experts recently urged the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration - the agency charged with large truck and bus highway safety - to require that obese commercial drivers with body mass indices of 35 or more be tested for sleep apnea, a problem for millions of Americans.


The recommendations also include potential disqualification of commercial drivers who fall asleep at the wheel or are involved in fatigue-related truck accidents.


More common in men, obstructive sleep apnea is a common disorder that causes a person's breathing during sleep to be shallow and interrupted because the airway is blocked in the throat area, often because of obesity. During interrupted breathing, the sleeper actually stops breathing for anywhere from a couple of seconds up to several minutes. Snoring is often a symptom.


According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, a person with sleep apnea may have over 30 breathing stoppages per hour, interrupting deep sleep and resulting in severe daytime tiredness and poor concentration. Obviously, these symptoms are dangerous to an over-the-road driver of a large commercial vehicle for whom alertness can be a problem under even normal circumstances.


Those with sleep apnea are also at higher risk of heart problems, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes.


Diagnosis is not easy and usually requires a sleep study using a polysomnogram that can pick up sensitive data during sleep like brain waves, eye and muscle movement, breathing and heart rate, blood pressure, lung capacity and oxygen levels.


Treatment may include weight loss, mouthpiece use, possible surgery and probable use of a CPAP machine that forces air into the throat through a face mask during sleep.


The recommendations to the FMCSA came out of a December 7, 2011, meeting of a joint subcommittee formed by two federal agency advisory bodies:

The DOT created the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to advise the FMCSA about motor-carrier safety. The MCSAC has 19 members representing the trucking and bus industries, law and safety enforcement, and safety activists.


The FMCSA's Medical Review Board consists of five distinguished doctors specializing in commercial drivers' most important medical issues. The MRB advises federal transportation officials on "physical qualification standards" for truck and bus drivers.


At this point, if the FMCSA follows the subcommittee's advice it would be in the form of guidance to medical examiners. More subcommittee work is scheduled for January 2012 and beyond with an eye toward possible future sleep-apnea regulations.


If you are injured in an accident with a large truck or bus, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney as early as possible to preserve your potential legal remedies and understand your options.





Senate Bill Would Allow Heavier Trucks on the Road


With the Senate addressing the reauthorization of federal highway safety programs, it's not a surprise that big trucks are also an issue before Congress. Earlier this year, Senators and House Representatives introduced Senate Bill 747 (S. 747) and House Bill 763 (H.B. 763) to their respective bodies. In so doing, the group has stirred the debate on the issue of "bigger" trucks and highway safety.


Under S. 747, and sister legislation H.R. 763, both titled the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act of 2011 (SETA), states can allow heavier commercial vehicles on their highways. This proposed legislation would increase the poundage limits from 80,000 pounds to 97,000 pounds and increase axle limits to six.


Supporters of the legislation, submitted at the urging of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, argue it offers many benefits. Commercial shippers would have more truck space which in turn reduces fuel costs and other expenses. Advocates say the change would eliminate at least one competitive disadvantage that American producers face in comparison to those in Canada, European Union and Mexico.


The American Trucking Associations (ATA), as well as other organizations, support the Congressional bills. According to the ATA, 30 percent more tonnage will need to be hauled by the year 2025. In the absence of this new law, the increased workloads will translate into 18 percent more trucks on the highways.


While the trucking industry embraces the draft law, many other groups oppose the new legislation. Organizations, such as AAA, argue that bigger trucks will lead to bigger problems and more danger for passenger vehicles.


While millions of commercial trucks travel this nation's roadways, they account for less than 4 percent of all registered vehicles. According to the University of Michigan's National Center for Truck and Bus Statistics, an average of 5,061 trucks are involved in a fatal traffic crashes each year. The Center also found that nearly 73 percent of fatal truck accidents involved vehicles in the heaviest Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) class.


Currently, the Senate bill is being considered by the Senate Finance Committee. Its sister bill, which has 54 sponsors, is before the Ways and Means Committee.


Semi trucks are an integral part of a healthy American economy, but they also place passenger drivers, pedestrians and cyclists at risk for serious injuries. When our nation's lawmakers consider these draft laws, they must carefully weigh all of the available information.





Effective Motorcycle Safety


Safety is a critical issue during the summer months, but for motorcyclists, autumn can be just as critical. According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 32,000 people died on our nation's roads last year. Of that number, more than 4,000 of those fatalities related to motorcycle crashes.


Motorcycle crashes often result because of the actions of riders and drivers alike. A number of motorcyclist- related factors include rider inexperience, impairment, or disregard of highway safety laws. For passenger vehicle drivers and commercial trucks, the issues could relate to weather conditions, poor visibility, aggressive driving and distractions.


Regardless of the cause, many motorcycle accidents are preventable. For riders, being prepared can help prevent many crashes or reduce serious injuries. Before trips, plan ahead, because knowing routes and understanding a state's motorcycle specific laws is important. When traveling, try not to ride alone and be aware of possible road construction or weather conditions. Wear protective gear, such as properly fitted helmets. Also, have emergency items, such as first aid kits and tools, in case of vehicle problems or minor injuries.


While there is an annual Motorcycle Awareness Month in May, drivers should be aware of motorcycles every day, given their prevalence on the roadways. Drivers need to realize that they share the roads with various types of vehicles and that awareness and obeying traffic laws are crucial for safe travel.


Motorcyclists are some of the most vulnerable vehicles on our nation's roads. While built for speed, maneuverability and fuel economy, motorcycles do not offer their riders the same protections as cars and trucks. As a result, motorcyclists can suffer more than simple scrapes and bruises. Traumatic brain injury and broken bones are common crash injuries suffered by riders.


Riders should always take extra care when traveling, because it only takes a second for a serious or fatal accident to occur.


For motorcyclists injured in traffic crashes, medical costs, lost wages and other expenses may arise. However, an injured rider and their families can recover damages and protect future interests with the assistance of an experienced attorney.


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