New Study Finds Obese Commercial Truck Drivers Have a Higher Crash Risk

Professor Steven Burkes at the University of Minnesota is the project coordinator for the Truckers & Turnover Project, a multi-year study in the field of “behavioral personnel economics” of truck driver health and safety conducted by a team of faculty and staff from the University of Minnesota, Morris and faculty at other institutions.

The project team has been studying the “relationship between the body mass index (BMI) of trainee truckers and their risk of a vehicle accident on the job, controlling for demographic characteristics and for operational factors that affect the exposure to risk.”

The study found that commercial drivers operating 18-wheelers and other heavy freight vehicles that have a high BMI are at greater crash risk than drivers with BMI in the normal range.

The Truck Project team followed 744 new commercial truck drivers from their initial training for their commercial driver’s licenses through their first two years of driving, or until employment separation.  What they found was that obese commercial truck drivers (high BMI of over 35), during their first two years on the road, are 43% to 55% more likely to be involved in a crash when compared against those truckers with a normal BMI (between 18.5 and 25 BMI).

The following is the team’s nontechnical summary of the study from the working paper version of the article published in Accident Analysis & Prevention this month (see citation below):

We studied the relationship between the body mass index of newly recruited trainee truckers and their later on-the-job accident rate, controlling for job differences that affect the degree to which each driver is exposed to the risk of an accident. We find evidence that drivers who are very obese (WHO Class II and III, with BMI > 35) when entering this occupation have about a 50% a higher risk of an accident after training than do drivers of normal weight. Most accidents new drivers have are minor, but we also find that having a minor accident predicts a greater risk of a more serious one later. The cooperating firm operates in a high turnover part of the driver labor market, and new drivers are always a significant fraction of the work force at firms like this one. This suggests that driver health behavior (in this case before training) has significant spillovers to public safety.

The article points to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), and fatigue related to the obesity as possible reasons for the increased crash risk. Driver fatigue is a significant problem in long-haul trucking industry.  Results of a questionnaire administered at truck inspection stations in several U.S. states indicated that 28% of commercial motor vehicle drivers acknowledged that at least once during the preceding month, they had fallen asleep while driving, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcement of Drowsy Driving Prevention Week (November 12–18, 2012).  A study conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that 13 percent of Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their crash.

If obesity adds to the problem of driver fatigue, it is up to trucking companies to take measures to eliminate this added risk. Arguably, a trucking company that allows an excessively obese person to drive a commercial truck is negligently putting the other drivers on the road at risk of wrongful death and serious injury, including traumatic brain injury, spinal injury, amputation, and kidney damage.

Truckers & Turnover Project Article: Anderson, Jon E., Manjari Govada, Tricia K. Steffen, Chris P. Thorne, Vasileia Varvarigou, Stefanos N. Kales, and Stephen V. Burks. “Obesity is associated with the future risk of heavy truck crashes among newly recruited commercial drivers.” Accident Analysis & Prevention (2012).

Attorney Eric Hageman represents semi-trailer truck accident victims and their families throughout the United States in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against trucking companies and others. In recognition of his accomplishments, Hageman was named an “Attorney of the Year” by Minnesota Lawyer, a legal periodical. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” for nine consecutive years, 2004 through 2012 by Law & Politics magazine. Eric is rated as an AV Preeminent Attorney by Martindale-Hubbell. For information about our law firm’s experience with auto accidents, please see Car Accident Attorney MN in Best Lawyers.

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