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Carole Upcraft has launched an e-petition calling for the government to pressure lorry drivers to have tests for sleep apnoea, which causes daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
Her son Daniel, 32, suffered brain damage and his fiancée Nicola Culshaw, 33, was killed when their car was hit by a lorry while queuing for the Dartford tunnel on the M25 in April last year. The lorry driver, 40-year-old David Thomas from Upminster, was initially charged with causing death by dangerous driving, but the case was dropped when it was discovered he had undiagnosed sleep apnoea.
Library supervisor Mrs Upcraft, of Knoll Rise, Orpington, said: “There is no point in being vengeful here. We just need to find a positive out of what happened. We do not want another family to go through what we have gone through. Research shows that 41 per cent of HGV drivers have a sleep disorder of one kind or another, but most of them won’t be aware of it.”
The petition reads:
Tired drivers cause violent deaths & horrific injuries
Responsible department: Department for Transport
I would like a debate to raise awareness for the early diagnosis of HGV drivers with sleep apnoea. Last year my son and his fiancee were crashed into by a driver who had undiagnosed sleep apnoea. My son was left with serious brain injuries and his fiancee was killed. The driver was charged with death by dangerous driving but days before the trial the case was dropped by the CPS as he was driving unaware of this medical condition. There are clear criteria and indicators as to who is likely to suffer this condition. Please help raise awareness with haulage employers and GP’s. So that no other person is killed by a condition that is treatable.
To sign the petition, which needs 100,000 signatures to be considered by the government, go to epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/5851
The father of Toby Tweddell, who was killed in a road accident in 2006, has spoken out on radio 5 live calling for all lorry drivers to be screened for sleep apnoea. The driver responsible for the accident also joined the call for action.
This tragic case demonstrates the fatal consequences of the lack of awareness of the condition, both within the medical profession, and by drivers themselves. It also shows that commercial drivers have nothing to fear from a positive diagnosis as the driver in this case was absolved of resposibility for the accident having been misdiagnosed. He is still driving today having been treated successfully.
The coroner of the case, and Toby’s parents both called for screening at the time of the killing, and five years later nothing has been done and road deaths due to sleep apnoea have continued. However, with the Corporate Manslaughter Act now in full force a similar case could now result in the driver’s employers being sued for negligence. Hopefully companies will now take action before this happens again.
The BBC reported at the time, “Mr Tweddell, 25, from Sale, Greater Manchester, was killed when a lorry driver ploughed into a queue of traffic on the M62 in Merseyside in 2006. Lorry driver Colin Wrighton had been suffering obstructive sleep apnoea. The 54-year-old’s condition had yet to be diagnosed but he had complained to his doctor about feeling tired four months before the accident. Tests had been run for diabetes, which came back negative.
“Mr Wrighton was initially charged with causing death by dangerous driving, but the Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence against him after his sleeping condition was revealed. In giving his narrative verdict, which was released as a statement, the coroner said: “It is my intention to prepare a Rule 43 Report to the Lord Chancellor concerning obstructive sleep apnoea in an endeavour to reduce the number of deaths that arise annually from this condition.”
The results of a new study of 1000 drivers by the road safety charity Brake and Cambridge Weight Plan shows that one in eight drivers have nodded off at the wheel. They also found that one in seven (13%) of drivers suffer from sleep apnoea.
Julie Townsend, Brake’s campaigns director, said: “Tiredness at the wheel kills. Driving a vehicle is a huge responsibility that must be taken seriously. That means stopping when we feel drowsy and certainly never starting a journey tired. It’s a matter of life and death. We still have widespread misunderstanding of how to prevent driver tiredness, and ignorance about factors like sleep apnoea, a condition that can be treated. These messages still need to get through to the public, which is why we are calling for renewed efforts from the Government to tackle this issue urgently.”
Professor Tony Leeds, Medical Director, Cambridge Weight Plan, said: “Driver tiredness can have devastating results, but it is avoidable if drivers follow road safety and medical advice. I urge drivers to manage their sleep needs: make sure you get sufficient rest each night, and stop and rest if you feel sleepy at the wheel. If you often feel tired, there might be an underlying medical problem, so you should seek appropriate professional advice. A common cause of tiredness is obstructive sleep apnoea, which is more common among commercial drivers, and is linked to greater risk of crashing. Sleep apnoea is linked to body mass index, so overweight drivers should be particularly alert to the possibility of suffering from this disorder, but aware that it is treatable.”
I have long been calling for companies to test their drivers for sleep apnoea as a matter of routine. The test is simple and effective, and treatment is free on the NHS so will cost companies nothing to resolve, and will saving lives. With the Corporate Manslaughter Act now in force companies can and will be held legally responsible for failing to protect their employees, so there is every reason for employers of commercial drivers to act on this now.
This BBC news item outlines the issue of sleep apnoea and road safety very effectively. As mentioned in the video a possible 25 road accidents a year are sleep related in Lincolnshire alone. I am calling for mandatory testing for all HGV drivers as identifying and treating sleep apnoea in drivers will save lives.
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.
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.