Those with Untreated Sleep Apnea at Higher Risk for Car Accidents
It is common knowledge that untreated sleep apnea can have dire health effects, but a new study shows that it also increases a person’s risk of getting in a car accident.
Researchers at the University Hospital in Leeds, UK found that people with untreated sleep apnea are more likely to fail a driving simulator test, and report nodding asleep while driving.
The study was organized by the European Respiratory Society and the European Sleep Research Society, and was presented April 12, 2013 at the Sleep and Breathing Conference in Berlin.
To determine the effect of untreated sleep apnea on driving, the researchers conducted two separate studies. The first was a driving simulation test where 133 patients with untreated sleep apnea and 89 without sleep apnea were asked “drive” 90 km — about 55 miles.
Various criteria was recorded, including the participants’ ability to complete the driving distance, their time spent in the middle lane, and any participation in an unprovoked crash or a “veer event” crash.
The results of the driving simulation test showed that:
- Patients with untreated sleep apnea were more likely to fail the driving simulation test — 24 percent of the sleep apnea patients failed the test, compared to 12 percent of those without sleep apnea.
- In addition, many patients with untreated sleep apnea were unable to complete the test at all, had more unprovoked crashes, and were unable to follow the clear driving instructions given at the beginning of the simulation test.
In the second study, 118 people with untreated sleep apnea and 69 without sleep apnea completed a questionnaire about their driving behavior, and also took the 90 km (about 55 miles) driving test on the simulator.
The results showed that:
- 35 percent of those with untreated sleep apnea admitted to nodding asleep while at the wheel, and 38 percent of this same group failed the driving simulation test.
- By comparison, only 11 percent of people without sleep apnea said they have nodded off while driving, and none of this group failed the simulator test.
Key differences in the reasons for failure
While some people in the control group (those without sleep apnea) also failed the driving simulator test, the researchers noted that there were some key differences in the reasons for failure.
For example, 13 people with untreated sleep apnea were not able to finish the driving simulation test because they fell asleep or veered completely off the road. Five people with untreated sleep apnea failed because they spent more than 5 percent of the study outside the lane they had been instructed to stay in. In the control group, no one failed the simulation for either of these reasons.
Dan Smyth of Sleep Apnea Europe, says “The dangers of untreated sleep apnea and driving are highlighted in both studies. These studies give weight to the need for provision of sufficient resources for early diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea, where effective treatment ensures a return to acceptable risk levels for road users.”
Chief investigator, Dr. Mark Elliott, states that, “Further investigation is needed to examine the reasons for failure of the simulator test.”
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