Source: By JOAN LOWY (AP)
Printer friendly version
WASHINGTON — Safety investigators have sent
government agencies a wake-up call about sleep apnea, a disorder
that's showing up in a wide range of transportation accidents.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that
commercial truck and bus drivers and merchant ship pilots should be
screened for sleep apnea. The board made similar recommendations for
airline pilots and train operators earlier this year.
In letters to the Coast Guard and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration, the board recommended requiring medical examiners to
question drivers and ship pilots about the disorder — which involves
disruptions in breathing during sleep — and to develop programs to
identify the problem.
Sleep apnea denies people the rest they need, and it has been found
to be a factor in incidents involving every transportation mode,
NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in the letters.
The board has sent similar recommendations to the Federal Aviation
Administration and to local transit agencies across the country.
Among the incidents cited in the letters:
||In January 2008, a motorcoach
carrying passengers returning from a weekend ski trip went too
fast around a curve on a rural Utah highway. The bus went
careening down a mountainside, killing nine people and injuring
43 others. The driver suffered from sleep apnea and had trouble
using a device to regulate his breathing while sleeping in the
days before the accident.
||The same month, two go! airlines
pilots conked out for at least 18 minutes during a midmorning
flight from Honolulu to Hilo, Hawaii, as their plane continued
to cruise past its destination and out to sea. Air traffic
controllers were finally able to raise the pilots, who turned
the plane around with its 40 passengers and landed it safely.
The captain was later diagnosed with sleep apnea.
||A trolley train crashed into
another train in May 2008 in Newton, Mass. Investigators said
the driver probably fell asleep because she suffered from sleep
apnea, but it could not be proved because she died.
||In November 2001, a train engineer
drove through a stop warning in Clarkston, Mich., striking
another train and killing two crew members. He was found to be a
very high risk for sleep apnea, but he had not been diagnosed or
||In June 1995, a cruise ship
maneuvering through Alaska's Inside Passage was grounded on a
submerged but charted and marked rock by a pilot later diagnosed
with sleep apnea. The ship was carrying about 2,200 people.
A 2002 study that found 7 percent of adults have at least a moderate
form of the disorder, but people often don't know they have it.
The motor carrier administration is already considering a rule to
tighten its standards for medical certification of commercial drivers,
Transportation Department spokeswoman Sasha Johnson said.
The FAA is also in the process of drafting new rules to broadly address
pilot fatigue and will consider the board's recommendations, spokeswoman
Laura Brown said.
The Coast Guard is examining the recommendations and will pursue
possible safety strategies, spokeswoman Lisa Novak said.
The letters noted the Federal Railroad Administration is also working on
drafting new regulations to address the problem.
Mark Rosenker, a former NTSB acting chairman, said the issue has long
been a concern of the board, but the go! airlines incident jarred board
"Obviously when two pilots fall asleep in the cockpit and they miss
their stop, that triggers a lot of interest at NTSB," Rosenker said.
On the Net:
National Transportation Safety Board: