Drivers understand how sleepiness can interfere with even the simplest cognitive tasks. This can sometimes feel more like getting from A to E, than A to B. For those who suffer from OSA this can be hazardous, due to the interrupted sleep OSA causes.

The 2011 study Reawakening Australia investigated the economic costs of sleeping disorders and as part of those costs, attempted to quantify the impact OSA can have through its influence on motor vehicle accidents. In this post/article we look more closely at how dangerous OSA can be on the road.

The odds ratio used in the study was 3 to 1. In other words a person with OSA is 3 times more likely on average to have a motor vehicle accident (MVA). The study estimated that 4.3% of MVAs in Australia (in 2010) involved OSA. The Fitness to Drive Guidelines indicate that driving under the influence of sleep apnoea is equivalent to driving with an alcohol level over the legal limit.

In terms of the number of serious accidents in a year, it was estimated that in 2010, 50 fatalities were due to OSA, a further 1,200 people required hospitalisation, and just over 10,000 were involved in an accident but did not require hospital treatment.Sleeping behind the wheel

The study follows through the costs of MVAs in terms of insurance claims, hospitalisation costs and the resulting impact of disability arising from those accidents. In total just over $500 million was attributed to MVAs associated with OSA (medical costs of $51 million plus other costs of $465 million). This is how much insurance cover would be needed to pay out for the impact of motor vehicle accidents created by OSA in 2010. Based on an estimated diagnosis rate of 3% for OSA or 775,000 adults (In Australia), and assuming they all drive, untreated OSA would attract an additional annual car insurance premium of $645 per person (in a hypothetical insurance scheme and country that did not provide any tax funded treatment costs).

We have chosen MVAs in this post because it is relatively easy for people to identify with, as most people live with the risk of an MVA on a daily basis and can understand the impact it can have. But the study shows that other costs of OSA, in terms of depression, cardiovascular disease, reduced productivity, and workplace accidents are even greater in scale and cost than MVAs.

The good news from counting the cost of OSA, is that the rate of return to treating OSA is very high. If you are showing some of the symptoms of OSA, the costs of diagnosis and treatment are heavily outweighed by the benefits of reducing the impact of OSA, both financially and physically.

The study of the economic costs used diagnosed rates of OSA to determine its impact. The study notes that the prevalence of symptoms such as sleepiness exceeds rates of diagnosis by an unhealthy margin. This suggests that the level of undiagnosed OSA may be high.

Getting a proper diagnosis and treatment of OSA is obviously heading in the right direction. All drivers should follow the guidelines to prevent sleeping at the wheel outlined here. You could also consider upgrading your next new car purchase to include a sleep detector or invest in one of the many anti-sleep alarms available, but these detectors / alarms are no substitute for a good night’s sleep. Safe travels.