OOIDA Foundation pokes holes in medical crash risk study

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 2/3/2017

A recent study indicated that truck drivers with three or more medical conditions possess a greater crash risk.

The study led by investigators from the University of Utah School of Medicine reported that drivers with three or more conditions could be up to four times as likely to have a crash as a healthier driver.

“What these data are telling us is that with decreasing health comes increased crash risk, including crashes that truck drivers could prevent,” said the study’s lead author Matthew Thiese, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health.

The results were published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

In the study, drivers’ medical and crash histories were matched. There were 82 drivers in the highest risk group, and results were calculated from millions of data points reflecting their relative crash risk every day for up to seven years. The investigators found that this group was at higher risk for different categories of crashes, including preventable accidents that caused injury.

The investigators said the study could mean that one condition, such as diabetes, could be manageable for a driver but that diabetes in combination with high blood pressure and anxiety could substantially increase a driver’s risk.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Foundation pointed out several weaknesses in the study.

First, the Foundation gives credit to the study’s authors for admitting that the conclusions are not definitive because of the small sample size and for saying that care should be taken when interpreting the true crash risk based on the results.

The Foundation said some of the reasons the results of the study could be flawed are that all of the drivers were from one motor carrier, they didn’t examine where the miles were driven, and many of the medical conditions are associated with each other and not necessarily exclusive.

The study also didn’t look at total driving experience. Just last week, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released an analysis that indicated drivers with more experience were less likely to crash.

There are 5.7 million drivers of commercial motor vehicles in the United States, according to the study. Based on police reports, there have been 60,000 truck crashes involving injuries in the past five years, the study said.

“The fact remains that crashes are rare events, and the crash rate for each of the groups (i.e., the number of conditions) were relatively similar, but the study did not break down the results by crash rates,” the Foundation said. “Thus, it cannot be said that just having a medical condition will result in a crash. If this were true, considering the health of the United States as a whole, the highways would be strewn with wrecked vehicles.”

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