Focusing on Sleep Apnea Could Also Improve School Bus Safety

by Terry Bryant

With seemingly daily reminders of public concern over – and prevalence of – sleep apnea, we are also learning how it insidiously invades our daily waking lives. When those afflicted with this sleep disorder are unable to remain awake during crucial periods, like when they are driving, calls for remedial action by the general public usually follow.

Over-the-road truck drivers, train engineers, and other occupations which require workers to be alert are discovering how sleep apnea can have negative, often tragic effects on their industries. Law enforcement and education officials are awaking to how it directly impacts school bus drivers’ ability to safely transport millions of children to and from school.  And even though chronic, undiagnosed, Obstructive Sleep Apnea’s (OSA) effects on school bus drivers may be understood, quick fixes to this challenge so far remain elusive.

The American Sleep Apnea Association reports that 22 million Americans have OSA, and 80% of moderate and severe OSA cases are undiagnosed. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), find that as many as 41% of commercial motor vehicle drivers could have OSA.

The past few years, OSA has been found to be either the direct cause or a contributing factor in several commercial bus accidents.

  • Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that undiagnosed OSA was at least a contributing factor in a 2016 bus crash in California.
  • The effects of OSA have yet to be ruled out as contributing to the recent fatal Alabama bus accident in March 2018. The bus was returning Channelview ISD band students home from a spring break performance at Disney World.
  • A Wyoming couple is preparing for their early May 2018 civil trial against Greyhound and its bus driver for a 2013 crash in Ohio, citing the driver’s undiagnosed OSA as the cause of the accident.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Mark Rosekind likens OSA to a national epidemic. “We have accidents in rail, commercial trucking, commercial aviation, marine, pretty much every mode of transportation,” he said, adding that “[o]ne of the biggest problems is that many of those people don’t know they’ve got OSA.”

It’s a reason many transportation industry officials and the NTSB worry over the recent Trump Administration’s reversal of a law passed during the Obama Administration, giving the NTSB the authority to administer mandated tests within the transportation industry of all commercial drivers and railroad conductors to identify those workers who have OSA.

The White House justified its reversal as an attempt to “shrink government” by passing the responsibility to commercial transportation companies and school districts that might want to test their drivers.  This would require private companies – not the government – to pay for the tests – which can cost $2,000 to $3,000 apiece – and would be a significant burden for many companies which are already operating on razor-thin margins.

So unless this apparent lack of regulation continues, there is little on the horizon to allay the fears of the traveling public, including school districts concerned with student safety – not to mention worried parents.

If you or a family member has been injured by a drowsy, distracted, or OSA-afflicted driver, the attorneys at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law can help. Contact us now.