CPAP Use Reduces Risk of Accidents

Summary

CPAP therapy is a proven treatment option for OSA. With the regular use of a CPAP, motor-vehicle accidents due to OSA can be prevented.

People with undiagnosed sleep apnea are one of the highest at-risk groups for a car accident. It has been shown that people with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) are 2 – 7 times more likely to have a motor-vehicle accident. Recent studies show that untreated OSA could decrease the driver’s reaction time to the same level as a legally intoxicated driver. Studies have shown that once the patient has been treated with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) their risk of a motor-vehicle accident is decreased to the same level as the general public.

If not treated properly, OSA can have severe effects on driving, which can lead to motor-vehicle accidents. Driving a car can be summarized into two tasks: estimating and responding to the curvature of the road and controlling the position of the car with respect to the edges of the road. These two tasks can become more difficult with the decrease in vigilance and awareness caused by untreated OSA. A study conducted by Findley et al showed drivers with sleep apnea found it difficult to be attentive and alert when driving; this in turn is related to motor-vehicle accidents.

In most traffic accidents caused by untreated OSA there is no braking involved just prior to the accident, as drivers tend to fall asleep while they are at the wheel. This lack of breaking further increases the damage in each accident and as a result OSA-related accidents are typically more fatal than usual traffic accidents. A large number of commercial drivers are likely to be victims of OSA because of difficult work and sleep schedules. It has been reported that the prevalence of OSA in commercial truck drivers could be as high as 46%.

Driving accidents resulting from OSA can be a very large unnecessary expense. In the year 2000 there were over 800,000 drivers that were a part of OSA-related accidents in the USA alone. The total cost of these accidents was US$15.9 billion. Although OSA related accidents are only a small number of total motor-vehicle accidents in the USA, there are a significant number of accidents that can be easily avoided by the use of the correct treatment.