Obesity among truck drivers has become a major concern in the trucking industry in recent years. Truck drivers that are particularly large around the middle have an increased risk of crashing. In fact, studies indicate that obese truckers have a higher risk of having an accident in their first two years than a driver who is in shape.
The findings of those studies have sparked a widespread debate over the correct way to screen commercial truck drivers for various medical conditions that could potentially cause a risk while they are driving. Truck driving is not a profession that is seen as being conducive to a healthy lifestyle. This is because of the stressful conditions that drivers often have to face, along with being sedentary for many hours at a time. Sleep deprivation is another common problem. Truck drivers are more likely that the average person to have sleep disorders, be obese and to smoke. All of these health issues can translate into safety problems. For example, commercial truck drivers have an involvement in roughly 4,000 fatal crashes every year. Over 15% of those crashes are caused by fatigue and other physical problems.
For more than ten years, studies have been conducted to identify some of the causes that help to contribute to the safety and health of truck drivers. Drivers’ ability to plan, their tolerance for risk and loss and their cognitive abilities have all been studied. Recently, the focus has been shifted to a driver’s height and weight, since this information is readily available. The researchers conducting the study asked 750 new drivers for their height and weight. They then figured out their body mass index. A body mass index of 25 is overweight, over 30 is obese.
The researchers monitored the drivers over the next two years. They found clear evidence that the highest body mass index drivers posed the highest risk of having an accident. During their initial two years of driving, severely obese drivers with a body mass index of over 35 were 45% to 60% more likely to crash than drivers who were in shape.
The heightened risk could be due to a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. It is commonly associated with obesity, often causing drowsiness during the day. Limited agility of severely obese drivers is another factor that the study pointed to as a cause for many of the crashes. The results of the study may make it more difficult for obese drivers to get trucking jobs.
Federal regulators have been discussing the possibility of requiring all commercial truck drivers above a specific body mass index to have a screening for sleep apnea. There has also been debate as to what exactly that body mass index should be. Whatever the final result is, the trucking industry may never be the same.