New DVLA report blames Sleep Apnoea for 20% of Motorway accidents

Further to similar statements by Government Motoring Departments in other countries such as the USA, the DVLA in Britain has made a statement that a greater awareness of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) could save lives.

Surprisingly, very few of the major UK media sources have picked up on either the report or the story, with the exception of The Telegraph, and some publications in the specialist commercial motoring press like Fleet News.

Further to a new guide to the condition, the DVLA have underlined the fact that OSA is thought to cause as many as one-fifth of accidents on Britain’s motorways, and as a consequence needs greater recognition amongst all drivers, particularly commercial, as this increased knowledge and higher awareness could doubtless save lives.

Sleep apnoea recently has been closely linked to a number of fatal driving incidents involving commercial vehicles, including the death of a Newcastle pensioner who was hit by a bus and killed in 2011 after the driver allegedly fell asleep at the wheel. The bus driver was later diagnosed with OSA.

Drivers of commercial vehicles are thought to be particularly likely to develop this highly dangerous and life-disrupting sleep disorder as it has been found to have a much higher likelihood of being found amongst middle-aged men with sedentary jobs such as driving.

As a consequence the DVLA has produced a document highlighting the key facts around driving and obstructive sleep apnoea which is targeted at all drivers but especially those handling HGV vehicles. The report was developed on behalf of the DVLA and group of specialist OSA experts, and it has taken into account input not only from clinicians, but also from leading members of the haulage industry.

Professor John Stradling, a participant, and spokesman for one of the UK’s leading Sleep Clinics made the following statement this week: “It is vital that we do not push the problem underground by making it difficult for commercial drivers to admit that they have symptoms. We have worked closely with the DVLA to agree a consistent process that highlights the importance and the longer term benefits of seeking treatment quickly.”

However, OSA can be treated very quickly, and very easily, and when the main symptoms such as snoring are controlled, quality of life can be improved. However, if it is left untreated, sleep apnoea is likely to impact on a person’s general health and is known to reduce life expectancy.

The biggest worry in seeking treatment is that commercial drivers have fears about losing their licence, and as a consequence their job, but this may not be something that necessarily is a result if help is sought quickly.

The Head of Policy for the DVLA has made the following official statement:

“We understand from talking to our members that many drivers have concerns about seeking medical advice for fear of losing their licence. However this document provides answers to many questions about OSA and also offers advice on how to access treatment as quickly as possible.”

The DVLA stress that safety is their key concern – both for drivers and others – and their main objective is to encourage drivers to come forward straight away if they are experiencing any of the key symptoms such as heavy snoring coupled with regular pauses in their breathing during sleep.

The DVLA emphasises that once drivers are receiving treatment, and the main symptoms are brought under control, driving can be resumed without jeopardizing the life and safety of themselves and other road users.

The conclusion is to seek professional help quickly from experts and to preferably consult with your Dentist – or your GP. There are simple proven appliances readily available that are NHS Approved . These items include easy-to-use products such as mouthpieces and chin straps to wear whilst asleep. These are readily available and will rapidly eliminate the symptoms.

For further Government advice and information use this link OSA and Driving where you can download the new DVLA leaflet ‘Tiredness can Kill’.

By John Redfern