Drivers suffering from sleep disorders that make them tired at the wheel should not fear that seeking treatment will automatically end their career, a support group has said.
Today (16 March) is World Sleep Day and the Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) group has taken the opportunity to encourage drivers to get treatment rather than drive on in fear of harming others and themselves.
For those with untreated OSA – believed to be around 1.4 million people in the UK alone – their sleep is disturbed. In the case of severe OSA, people with the condition can wake up hundreds of times a night without realising.
As a consequence, they are likely to wake up still feeling sleepy, not understanding why. For those who drive for their living, such as truck and van drivers, feeling tired when you wake up means that you may well fall asleep at the wheel, which is dangerous for both themselves and other road users.
Professor John Stradling, a member of the OSA Partnership Group, said: “While awareness of OSA, and the very effective treatment available for the condition, has grown in recent years, there is an understandable reluctance from those who rely on their driving licence to come forward for treatment.
“We understand that there is a natural caution if you think you might lose your job as a result, and therefore the OSA Partnership Group has been working with healthcare professionals to encourage fast tracked treatment for vocational drivers, and also with the DVLA to try to simplify the process of reporting DVLA.”
In January 2016 a new EU Directive changed the DVLA requirements for reporting OSA and this caused considerable confusion to both healthcare professionals and patients.
However, following discussions with the DVLA, there have been some changes to the guidance provided for medical professionals when assessing whether a patient should drive, and whether they should contact the DVLA.
These changes mean:
- If a driver is diagnosed with OSA, but does not have excessive sleepiness having, or likely to have, an adverse effect on driving, they may continue to drive as normal and do not need to notify the DVLA.
- If a driver has sleepiness that does have an adverse effect on driving, and it is suspected that they might have OSA, they should stop driving but do not have to notify the DVLA until the diagnosis has been confirmed.
- Once a diagnosis of OSA is confirmed, the driver must stop driving and must notify the DVLA. In this case, the OSA group suggests this is done in writing rather than by email or phone.
- The treatment for OSA is very effective so, providing it is used correctly, it is often the case that by the time the DVLA send through the paperwork to be completed, the driver has already been treated, and the symptoms have resolved. In this case, the DVLA should not revoke their licence.
The OSA group said that it is important to understand that the DVLA are only concerned about symptoms that directly and adversely affect driving.
It added that while changes have been made to most DVLA documents and forms, there may still be some with the old guidelines, particularly on the Gov.uk website.
Professor Stradling said: “As we mark National Sleep Day, anyone who has excessive sleepiness due to OSA should be aware that they can get treatment for the condition, and can enjoy the same quality sleep as someone without the condition.
"Furthermore they can drive knowing that they are no longer a danger to themselves and others on the road.”
RAC Business is an active member of the group, and spokesman Simon Peevers said: “It is vital that the fleet sector is aware of the recent announcement from DVLA regarding OSA and driving for business.
“It is not an exaggeration to say it could save lives, and certainly livelihoods, if drivers who suspect they may have the symptoms feel they can come forward and get the treatment they need without losing their licence, or posing a danger on the roads."
By David Harris