22nd July 2016

Telematics can assist the 80% of UK fleets lacking sleep apnoea awareness

Obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) is a relatively rare condition affecting around one in ten drivers in the UK and 5% of the population as a whole*. It is surprising to learn, though, that it’s more prevalent amongst people whose jobs largely comprise driving, making businesses’ lack of awareness surrounding OSAS all the more concerning.

A study jointly carried out by RAC Business and the OSA Partnership Group in spring 2016 reveals that 57% of firms interviewed possess scant knowledge of OSAS and don’t therefore appreciate how important it is for the condition to be detected and treated as promptly as possible to keep their professional drivers safe out there on the road. With UK fleet managers’ responsibilities and schedules becoming increasingly demanding, it’s not particularly surprising that lesser-known health issues like this haven’t been given a great deal of attention. It’s reassuring, therefore, to learn that four fifths of the 500 organisations surveyed said that they would like to receive greater awareness of OSAS.

At a time when smart motorway upgrade delays and ever-increasing traffic levels in the UK cause many drivers to spend excessively long stints behind the wheel, organisations that harness the power of telematics solutions are better placed in being able to keep their drivers safer. Fleet managers who have recognised the benefits of telematics systems are able to view driver data to see if any personnel are driving for dangerously long periods or have been showing signs of fatigue, for example, and can in turn educate such ones on improving their safety.

Appy Fleet, an entirely smartphone app-based telematics solution, allows drivers to switch the app to ‘private mode’ when they’re making private journeys in company or personal vehicles, meaning that driver reluctance for privacy reasons is no longer an obstacle. Cost needn’t prevent firms from adopting telematics to keep their drivers safer, either, with Appy Fleet priced at £4 per month per driver.

OSAS is more debilitating than OSA as it involves pauses in and disruption to breathing during the night as a result of partial or total airway closures, along with extreme tiredness in the day. Middle-aged men, particularly those who are overweight, are more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome – and if it’s left untreated, such drivers could be exposed to up to 90% more risk than non-sufferers. HGV drivers are particularly susceptible and untreated OSAS can lead to high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks and a 20% shortening of a person’s life expectancy.

The DVLA must be notified by a driver if he or she has been diagnosed with or suspects they have OSA and feel their ability to drive safely is affected, or if they have OSAS1. However, through fears over losing their licences and hence their livelihoods, four fifths of the participating professional drivers admit they are more inclined to conceal their belief that they may have OSAS from their GP or their firm’s HR department, fleet manager or boss.

Earlier on this year, in a bid to ensure that potential sufferers were diagnosed and treated more urgently, the OSA Partnership Group launched a campaign it’s hoped the government will add its weight to, in light of the general consensus being that a fifth of motorway accidents are caused by severe tiredness or even drivers falling asleep at the wheel.

Motoring organisations typically recommend that all drivers stop to rest every couple of hours, and guidelines for fleet drivers, whether driving company vehicles or their own grey fleet cars, are often stricter. Automotive technology is surging ahead, particularly when it comes to safety, with various manufacturers having made driver drowsiness alerts available. One example is Mercedes’ Attention Assist system, which works by analysing a driver’s behaviour against an initial personal profile it forms of them, monitoring steering movement, road positioning, speed and time behind the wheel, displaying a coffee cup message and vibrating the wheel when it deems necessary in the name of safety. Similarly, the Attentiveness Assistant as part of BMW’s Active Protection suite continually monitors for signs of fatigue and warns the driver in various ways. HARMAN2 has even gone as far as showcasing a system that monitors a driver’s pupil dilation to gauge cognitive load using in-car cameras.

Although OSAS is clearly a serious condition that will inevitably result in some vocational drivers unfortunately having to relinquish their licences, it’s hoped that a combination of increased education along with the adoption of app-based telematics systems like Appy Fleet and the proliferation of driver alert technology will go some way to alleviate sleep issues in relation to driving.

 

* http://www.osapartnershipgroup.co.uk/what-is-osa.html

† http://www.rac.co.uk/press-centre#/pressreleases/business-need-for-greater-awareness-of-sleep-disorders-at-work-1430928

1 https://www.gov.uk/obstructive-sleep-apnoea-and-driving

2 http://news.harman.com/releases/harman-demonstrates-industrys-first-pupil-based-driver-monitoring-system-at-ces-2016