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Fleet News reports that the DVLA has produced a document highlighting the facts around driving and obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome.

The condition is particularly prevalent among HGV drivers, and excessive sleepiness is thought to be responsible for up to 20% of motorway traffic accidents. The document, which has been developed between the OSA Partnership Group and the DVLA, has taken into account input from clinicians and the haulage industry itself.

Professor John Stradling from the Oxford Sleep Clinic, who contributed to the document, said: “It is vital that we do not push the problem underground by making it difficult for commercial drivers to admit that they have symptoms. Therefore members of the OSA Partnership Group have worked closely with the DVLA to agree a consistent process that highlights the importance and the longer term benefits of seeking treatment quickly.”

Those most at risk of having the condition are overweight middle-aged men and HGV drivers seem to be at higher risk of OSAS. However, OSAS can be fully treated quickly and easily; when the symptoms are controlled, quality of life can improve considerably. However if left untreated OSAS is likely to impact on overall health and wellbeing, and can impact on life expectancy. Ian Gallagher, head of policy for DVLA Policy at FTA said: “We understand from talking to our members that many drivers have concerns about seeking medical advice for fear of losing their licence. However this document provides answers to many questions about OSAS and also offers advice on how to access treatment as quickly as possible.”

The OSA Partnership Group has been established to bring together organisations from the commercial vehicle sector, clinicians, patient groups and those interested in health and safety at work together to raise awareness of sleep apnoea and to address the road safety issues associated with the condition.

Jan Chandaman, acting head of medical licensing policy at the DVLA said: “Our medical team has worked closely with the OSA Partnership Group in order to provide answers that we hope will allay drivers’ concerns if they believe they have symptoms of OSAS, and to encourage early notification of the condition.

“Our concern, first and foremost, has to be the safety of road users – both drivers and others and we want drivers to come forward straight away if they have any symptoms of the condition. Once they are receiving treatment and their symptoms are brought under control, driving can resume without jeopardising their safety and that of other road users. There is a European Working Group in progress on OSA and OSAS which DVLA is a member of and we are awaiting their recommendations on European standards for this condition.”

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It is suspected that about 20% of car accidents are sleep related and research has show that sleepiness can impair driving more than drink! Indeed patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) have a 7-12 fold chance of a road traffic accident (RTA) compared to those who do not and treating the condition can reduce the accident rate by 83%.

It has been reported that up to 1:6 Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV)   drivers are thought to have OSA and some Unions are calling for mandatory testing for all drivers. Falling asleep at the wheel results in far more serve injuries and likelihood of death as there is no attempt at breaking and evasive manoeuvres. In Lincolnshire we adopted a multi agency approach to this issue with significant success (see graph).

In the UK only 20% of patients have been diagnosed and only half of these have been treated  and the British Thoracic Society

(BTS) estimates that if you treated 59,400 you could reduce RTA’s by 7000 and over 400 lives would be saved and £400 million in RTA costs over 5 years.


RTA trends in Lincolnshire 2003-2009

The UK Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has regulations for people who have been diagnosed with sleep apnoea, because these drivers are much more likely to be involved in crashes by falling asleep at the wheel. However, the clinical advice can be variable; from do not drive until on therapy to it is ok if you are not sleepy at the wheel.  This seems to be something of a grey area and needs clarification.

The DVLA requires:

Group 1 licence holders (car/ motorcycle) diagnosed with sleep apnoea must stop driving until the symptoms have been controlled and confirmed by medical opinion.

Group 2 licence holders (LGV) diagnosed with sleep apnoea must stop driving until the symptoms have been controlled, and must have ongoing treatment. Licensing reviews will be carried out regularly, usually annually.

A new leaflet ‘Think! Tiredness Can Kill’ has been published by the DVLA, offering advice for drivers on the risks of sleepiness while driving.

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