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London - One in 20 drivers unknowingly suffers from a sleeping disorder that puts them at risk of nodding off at the wheel, the RAC has warned.
It says 1.4 million motorists are a risk to themselves and other road users due to Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome.
Research suggests the problem may be responsible for up to one in five accidents and is increasing with growing cases of obesity and sedentary lifestyles.
It said that in tests of simulated driving, “sleep apnoea patients had a driving performance at least as bad as drivers over the alcohol limit.”
The RAC said: “It is a serious condition where the muscles in the throat relax too much during sleep, obstructing the airway, which causes the sufferer to temporarily stop breathing and consequently repeatedly wake up to start breathing again.
“The sufferer is usually unaware this is going on and it can occur hundreds of times in a night, leading to daytime sleepiness and other serious health problems.”
“Those drivers who have the condition, but who are not being treated, are six times more likely to have an accident than others.”
The RAC, which has joined forces with the Sleep Apnoea Partnership Group to raise awareness, said: “While 400 000 people have been diagnosed and are being treated for the condition, it is believed that up to 1.4 million drivers have not been diagnosed.”
Effective treatment is available which can address the symptoms very quickly and enable patients to again drive safely, it adds.
Professor John Stradling, a leading sleep clinician, said: “The usual treatment is to use a simple continuous positive airway pressure device while asleep.
“Typically, sufferers are often overweight and that extra weight around the neck puts pressure on the throat.
“A sedentary kind of lifestyle only makes the condition worse, and people who spend a long time behind the wheel seem to be especially at risk.”
If the sleepiness is sufficient to impair driving, the sufferer must notify the DVLA and will be advised to stop driving.
“But the treatment available today is very effective and need not necessitate a long period of time off the road,” he added. - Daily Mail