A new study indicates that obesity in commercial truck drivers could contribute to a higher risk for them to be involved in an accident, particularly if they are new to the job. The study details how very obese (body mass index (BMI) >35) truck drivers are nearly 50 percent more likely to have a motor vehicle accident than average-weighted drivers.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota Morris, indicates that commercial drivers who are new on the job, and also highly obese, have a much higher crash rate than their colleagues who are not considered obese. The study was conducted with a cooperating trucking firm, Schenider National, Inc., and included 744 drivers. Researchers collected height and weight data from the drivers and then compared driver performance during their first two years on the road.

The multi-year study was led by Stephen Burks, a former truck driver, who is now an associate professor of economics and management at Morris. While the study didn’t specifically pinpoint the cause for the increased crash risk, Burks suggests the culprit is likely fatigue caused by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is estimated that 17 to 28 percent of commercial drivers are affected by OSA. Burks believes in addition to OSA, obese drivers may be affected with daytime sleepiness not related to OSA and limited agility that may contribute to fatigue and increased crash risk.

The current discussion between trucking companies and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) involves whether or not to use a truck driver’s BMI to establish a screening protocol for sleep apnea. The FCMSA’s ongoing review of the issue is addressed by the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and Medical Review Board’s most recent recommendation that conditional certification sleep study evaluations would be conducted for drivers with a BMI of 35 or greater.

According to a 2007 study by the FMCSA, fatigue and other physical issues account for more than 13 percent of the almost 4,000 fatal crashes involving commercial drivers each year. Thus, morbidly obese drivers, especially newer truck drivers with little to no experience, pose considerably higher risks in terms of fatigue-related accidents on public roadways.

Recent statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) are obese. There has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the U.S. from 1990-2010. In 2000, no state had an obesity prevalence of 30 percent or more. In 2010, there were 12 states with an obesity prevalence of 30 percent. Obviously, addressing the dangers associated with obesity in commercial drivers is more important than ever as this population continues to increase.

“We have long been aware of the correlation between BMI and work-related injuries, but seeing the correlation to crash risk caused us to redouble our efforts to address commercial driver wellness,” Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety and security with Schneider National told the UMM Center for Transportation Studies. “We now have a comprehensive sleep disorder testing and treatment program and a multifaceted wellness program to address the longer-term health of our commercial drivers as a way to mitigate risk. By proactively addressing the issue of obesity, we are able to reduce healthcare and other safety costs,” Osterberg says.

Beasley Allen attorney Chris Glover handles cases of Personal injury involving heavy trucks, log trucks, 18-wheelers and other commercial vehicles. For more information about these types of claims, contact him by email at Chris.Glover@BeasleyAllen.com.


University of Minnesota – Center for Transportation Studies

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