Treating America’s Sleepy Truckers

Reprinted with update from an article in Health and Wellness Magazine Nov, 2013

Every year in America there are nearly 500,000 commercial truck accidents, and, according to the Federal Motor Carrier’s Safety Administration, driver fatigue accounts for nearly 40% of these accidents. Obstructive sleep apnea is an incredibly frequent and treatable cause of the truckers’ fatigue, yet most truck drivers have not been tested for sleep apnea and, due to the inconvenience of common sleep apnea treatments, even fewer are being treated for their fatigue. For years this problem has remain unaddressed. However as Executive Director of the Dental Division of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy, I think our team can make our highways safer.

Also as founder and President of Pro Player Health Alliance, an organization which teams up with retired professional sports players to promote sleep apnea awareness, I have had the opportunity to help numerous former NFL players achieve a better night’s sleep. I noticed that, like NFL players, truckers endure long periods of travel and are frequently overweight, which places them at a higher risk of having obstructive sleep apnea.  In fact, according to a recent study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a third of American truck drivers have medium to severe sleep apnea. 

            Thus, On July 11th 2013 I, as well as Dr. Elliott Alpher and Dr. Richard Klein, met with the Department of to present ways to treat truck drivers for obstructive sleep apnea. The conventional treatment method for obstructive sleep apnea involves using a Controlled Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device. However these machines are bulky and require electricity, usually from large batteries, in order to function. Therefore most truck drivers, due to their frequent traveling, find CPAP devices to be very inconvenient. Furthermore, according to the American Thoracic Society, even in the general patient population, between 46% and 83% of CPAP patients will not adhere to CPAP therapy. Instead, we recommended for truck drivers the same treatment already been using for NFL players: oral appliance therapy.

Since 1981, Gergen’s Orthodontic Lab has been designing the highest quality oral appliances. Based on my experience, I feel that an oral appliance is

David Gergen and Josh Fowler celebrate another milestone

safe, affordable, easily transported, and non-electric, which makes it ideal for a trucker’s lifestyle. In the past, CPAP has been favored because of its ability to measure compliance and usage. However, with the addition of a new panel of sensors invented by Dr. Bonato, CEO of Braebon, who was also at the meeting, any of the oral appliances made with the sensor by Gergen’s can be used to measure compliance and usage. Appliances include the Sleep Herbst, EMA, Respire, TAPs and the newest addition invented by Steven Harkins, the Twilite Appliance which has successfully treated over 300 patients.

Furthermore even the sleep apnea screening process can be made simpler and more portable by using new technology which could record data from off-site locations such as a hotel room or even the cab of a truck. With the availability of this new portable technology, I believe that truckers deserve the same treatment that we have been delivering to NFL players for years.

            The Department of Transportation agreed with our presentation and the government responded. On October 15th 2013 a major step was taken toward making America’s highways safer when President Obama signed into law H.R. 3095, which requires screening all commercial truck drivers for sleep apnea. Screening for sleep apnea will make thousands of drivers aware of the cause for their drowsiness and will encourage them to pursue treatment.

            Still, there are more workers in the transportation sector who could be helped by sleep apnea screening and oral appliance treatment, including train operators and pilots. For example, a most recent event in Brooklyn unfortunately involved a train engineer falling asleep at a turn, derailing and flipping the train. Sleep apnea was later to be believed as the cause of this accident, although sleep test results have not been confirmed to date. However, Dr. Klein best captures the importance of October’s decision by saying, “Last year over 200,000 people on the roadways in this nation lost their lives due to sleepy drivers and now American roads will be safer and drivers can feel more confident in their safety.”

David Gergen

Since he received the award for The Finest Orthodontic Technician in the country given by Columbus Dental in 1986, he has worked for some of the pioneers in the orthodontic and sleep dentistry fields.  He was the personal technician for the likes of Dr. Harold Gelb, Dr. Robert Ricketts, Dr. Ronald Roth, Dr. A. Paul Serrano, Dr. Clark Jones, Dr. Arthur Gaus, Dr. Joseph R. Cohen and Dr. Edward Spiegel.  He has also taught orthodontic technicians at Arizona Institute of Technology for dental and medical careers.  David has also been active on the Arizona State University Sports and Medicine team since 1991.  He also received in 2012 a lifetime achievement award by the Gelb Academy as America’s greatest Orthodontic technician of all time. David can be reached at

David Gergen CDT

David Gergen CDT

David Gergen, CDT and President of Pro Player Health Alliance, has been a nationally respected dental lab technician for over 25 years. He received the award for “The Finest Orthodontic Technician in the Country” given by Columbus Dental in 1986. He also has been appointed Executive Director of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy Dental Division, a national interdisciplinary academy dedicated to sleep training and education with over 60,000 members. David rolled out of bed on December 4, 1982 and had his career “ah ha” moment. He knew he was going to be an orthodontic technician and he knew he was going to help people all over the country to help treat their sleep disorders in partnership with their dentists. He has worked for some of the pioneers in the orthodontic and sleep dentistry fields. He was the personal technician for the likes of Dr. Robert Ricketts, Dr. Ronald Roth, Dr. A. Paul Serrano, Dr. Clark Jones, Dr. Harold Gelb, Dr. Joseph R. Cohen, Dr. Rodney Willey, Dr. Allan Bernstein, and Dr. Thien Pham. One of his proudest achievements is receiving The National Leadership award for Arizona Small Businessman of the Year in 2004.

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2 thoughts on “Treating America’s Sleepy Truckers”

  1. It is nice to see someone with the totally wrong statistics use them to further their own raping of the American Trucker…NOT! It is nothing new though in the efforts of those to ride the cash cow of trucking, and this is a very blatant attempt. First off, less than 2% of all accidents concerning trucks are put down to fatigue, much less fatigue due to sleep apnea. Currently, there are no studies definitively linking sleep apnea to semi truck crashes. “According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, In 2011, 3,757 people were killed and 88,000 people injured in crashes involving large trucks (gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds). In the United States, 287,000 large trucks were involved in traffic crashes during 2011″ this number has not doubled in 2 years.” So the 500,000 number is wrong too.

    Many truckers use cpap machines when found to have SA…there is little difficulty in adapting a truck to run a cpap machine, again a misleading point in this article. However, congress has stepped in on the SA issue in the trucking industry and stopped the FMCSA from going around protocol to push for mandatory testing. This points out the factor that many who are pushing for testing are from the medical device manufacturing and sleep clinic sectors, again to ride the cash cow of trucking.

    The only things close to true statements in this article is that yes, for some a dental device will correct SA and that the FMCSA is only looking at cpap for use in correcting SA due to the ability to record usage. The rest of the article is so slanted against actual facts and statistics that it is blatantly self serving and used to promote their own agendas.

  2. Regarding the misleading statement from the above article: ”
    ” Every year in America there are nearly 500,000 commercial truck accidents, and, according to the Federal Motor Carrier’s Safety Administration,driver fatigue accounts for nearly 40% of these accidents”

    Here are some facts:

    In 2010, the FMCSA reports that only 1.4 percent of fatal truck accidents were the result of truck driver fatigue. More than 75% of truck driving accidents are due to the driver of the passenger vehicle.

    The DOT did a detailed study called “The Large Truck Crash Causation Study” to analyze truck crashes occurring between 2001 and 2003. The events that led to crashes included:

    • Loss of control of the truck after driving due to some event like a tire blowout
    • Disabling or non-disabling vehicle failure – engine problem or hood flew up
    • Another motor vehicle encroaching on the truck ‘s lane
    • Poor road conditions due to poor road maintenance or weather
    • Traveling too fast for road conditions
    • Shifting cargo
    • Lane drifting – either truck or passenger vehicle
    • Driving off the edge of the road
    • Improper truck maneuvering during events (turns and passing through intersections)
    • Coming upon a stopped vehicle
    • Finding objects on the highway
    • Driver fatigue

    Regarding Truck Driver Fatigue ( TDF), Here are some reasons OTHER than Sleep Apnea that are causes of TDF

    Lack of adequate truck parking.
    Dispatchers pushing drivers to driver when they say they are either ill or tired.
    Shippers and receivers holding drivers up at the docks for hours, cutting into their rest time.
    Dispatch waking drivers up via qualcomm etc., to ask questions, failing to respect and abide by the HOS regulations.
    Retaliation tactics from carrier if the drivers states he or she is too fatigued to drive

    Sleep Apnea is a real illness, however, alarming the general public and trucking community alike with misleading statistics is not the way to go to promote ones personal agenda.

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