The RAC and Road Haulage Association (RHA) have come together to raise awareness of undiagnosed sleep conditions among employers of commercial vehicle drivers.
Research released this month by the AAA Foundation found that driving with conditions such as obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) can be more of an impairment than having too much to drink.
Now, the RAC and RHA are backing calls for a fast track diagnostic and treatment pathway, for people suspected of having the condition who drive for a living because, if left untreated, these drivers pose a real threat to themselves and other road users.
An OSAS sufferer will not always be aware that they have the condition so may not spot the warning signs, but will feel drowsy during the daytime and are more prone to fall asleep at the wheel when driving.
While the condition can affect anybody, the industry partnership is focussing on commercial drivers as collisions involving trucks and HGVs can have the most devastating impact, and employers can play an active role in ensuring their drivers are safe behind the wheel.
The Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Partnership Group, which includes the RAC and RHA, is calling for a four week waiting limit from diagnosis to treatment. Currently drivers can wait months for treatment which means they may lose their jobs. Because of this, many people may not be coming forward to test for the condition.
The ‘Four Week Wait’ campaign was launched in March 2015 with the aim of persuading the Department of Health to implement the time limit, while calling on ministers/NICE to give the issue the priority it deserves.
Professor John Stradling, who was involved in the UK research study and is also a member of the OSA Partnership Group, said: “It is worth reminding anyone who considers driving with untreated OSAS, that the impairment to driving can be considerably greater than getting behind the wheel of a vehicle knowing due to exceeding the legal alcohol limit.
“There is a high risk of drivers with untreated OSAS losing concentration and falling asleep behind the wheel, leading to injury or death. There is a fully effective treatment available, so it is not worth the risk to the driver or other road users, thus we are asking employers to support their drivers and encourage them to come forward if they have concerns.”
RAC roads policy spokesperson, Nicholas Lyes, said: “Commercial drivers are vital to the health and growth of the UK’s economy, so it’s only right that those behind the wheel are safe and aware of any health threats that might impair their driving ability.
“HGV drivers are among the most highly trained and skilled on the roads, but something like obstructive sleep apnoea can affect anybody, regardless of ability and experience, which is why we feel it is vital that they have access to a fast track diagnosis and treatment that ensures job security and they are back on the road within a few weeks.”