Many of Australia’s truck drivers may suffer from a condition which increases their likelihood of becoming drowsy at the wheel.
This information came to light this week during an inquest into the death of a young man as a result of a head-on collision with a truck on the NSW North Coast in 2010.
According to a Fairfax report published yesterday (January 30), two experts gave evidence at the NSW Coroner’s Court session which was investigating the accident, which happened when the driver of the truck fell asleep at the wheel and their vehicle crossed onto the wrong side of the road.
The driver was found guilty of negligent driving occasioning death. However, after a medical specialist determined that they suffered from sleep apnoea, a suspended sentence was handed down.
Sleep apnoea is a sleeping disorder in which breathing abnormalities disturb a person’s sleep, and can lead to extreme drowsiness.
Sydney University professor Ron Grunstein’s research found last year that 46 per cent of the 1,000 truck drivers who took part in his study suffered from moderate to severe sleep apnoea.
“As a group, they tend to exhibit many of the risk factors associated with sleep apnoea, in that they are middle aged males who are often overweight and obese,” Mr Grunstein told the inquest.
Another expert, Dr Anup Desai, told NSW coroner Mary Jerram that there was a “huge gap” in the processes currently in place to assess truck drivers.
This week, Transport for NSW announced it would be sending a new brochure on heavy vehicle safety technologies to heavy vehicle operators throughout the country.
The brochure included a number of safety enhancements available on new heavy vehicles and to those operators looking to improve their fleet.
One such technology could help to prevent the symptoms of sleep apnoea from causing road accidents – driver fatigue monitoring systems.
These work by using cameras mounted in the cabin of the vehicle or alternatively camera-fitted glasses worn by the driver.
The cameras focus on the driver’s eyes and an optical processing unit records the time taken for each eyelid to reopen following each blink. Slower eyelid responses – which indicate driver fatigue – lead to an audible warning being produced.
If you’ve been injured as a result of an accident with a heavy vehicle, you may be entitled to truck accident injury compensation, so it’s a good idea to talk to no win no fee lawyers who can advise you on your case.