Last year, a commuter train sped much too fast around a corner in the Bronx. The train derailed, killing four commuters and injuring more than 60 others. When the train derailed, windows came off and those injured fatally were thrown from the train, while those injured remained in the train. The property damage was in excess of $9 million. Now the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has confirmed what some have suspected since the accident occurred: sleep apnea caused the driver to doze off behind the wheel. There were many warning signs, and all it would have taken was a routine screening to prevent this deadly accident.

Sleep Apnea and Shift Work: A Deadly Mix

The accident occurred on a turn that was rated for 30 miles per hour, although the previous stretch of straight track allowed trains to travel much faster. When the train went over this curve, it was traveling more than 80 miles per hour because the driver had dozed off at the controls and had accidentally accelerated over the 70 miles per hour cruising speed he had established on the straight track.

Undiagnosed sleep apnea is now recognized as the reason why the driver fell asleep at the controls. The effects of sleep apnea were worsened by two other causes. First, the driver had recently changed shifts, and was now getting up and working at a time about 12 hours different from what he had been working before. The change in shift was worsened by altered sleep habits over the Thanksgiving vacation, which had occurred just before the date of this accident.

A Routine Screening Could Have Saved Lives

It took only 30 days of sleep apnea treatment to completely eliminate the driver’s fatigue and daytime sleepiness. That means that if only someone had diagnosed his sleep apnea before the accident, it could have been prevented.

And there were plenty of signs that this driver suffered from sleep apnea, including both risk factors and symptoms, such as:

  • Obesity
  • Complaints of fatigue
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Male gender
  • Snoring

The driver had passed all physical tests required for his position, but the tests didn’t include a sleep apnea screening. The man had mentioned fatigue and daytime sleepiness to his personal physician, but instead of suspecting sleep apnea, his physician diagnosed him with hypothyroidism and low testosterone. The man’s wife complained of his snoring, but no-one made the connection with sleep apnea.

The lesson here is clear: undetected sleep apnea kills. Sleep apnea screening and sleep apnea treatment saves lives. It’s probably time to institute universal screenings for commercial pilots, drivers, and engineers.

If you are looking for successful, convenient, and comfortable sleep apnea treatment in Denver, please call (303) 691-0267 for an appointment at the TMJ Treatment & Sleep Center of Colorado.