Are HIPPA Rules Making Our Highways A Deathtrap?

Patients with untreated apnea are are a hazard on the road. According to studies snorers have three times more motor vehicle accidents that the average driver. Patients with untreated sleep apnea have a six-fold increase in motor vehicle accidents and slower reaction times that drivers who are legally drunk. One study showed that patients with mild sleep apnea and no signs of daytime sleepiness had a 300% increase in motor vehicle accidents that involved serious physical injury to one or more persons.

Luckily the FAA insists that pilots with sleep apnea be treated to continue to fly. The same is not true of truckers, bus drivers, school bus drivers, limo and cab drivers and train engineers etc. In fact, HIPPA rules and union contracts forbid companies from finding out the status of these possibly extremely dangerous drivers.

Is it time for sleep apnea to be removed from HIPPA rules and should sleep tests be required of all commercial drivers. Should physicians be required, by law to report patients with untreated sleep apnea.

The primary reason patients are not treated for sleep apnea is CPAP intolerance. A recent study showed 60% of patients abandon CPAP. Not good, when they are driving a six ton truck or a passenger train. Even patients who utilize CPAP average only 4-5 hours a day and frequently are still drowsy drivers. Dental Sleep Medicine is the use of comfortable oral appliances that maintain the airway sleep. The majority of patients prefer oral appliances to CPAP when offered a choice and compliance with treatment is far superior to CPAP. The most common complaint heard by sleep doctors is “I HATE CPAP!” which is what led to Chicago dentist Dr Ira L Shapira to creating” a site dedicated to informing the public about the dangers of sleep apnea and how comfortable oral appliances are an excellent alternative to CPAP.

MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a powerful force for highway safety. I believe the should change their name to MADD, Mothers Against Drowsy Driving to address a much more pervasive threat that exists on the road.

Please contact Sleep and Health with your thoughts about highway safety.