Thousands of commercial trucks flow through Arkansas every day, but what the public may not realize is that a large percentage of those behind the wheel suffer from a condition that could put others at risk. You can hear the report from FM 89's Beth McEvoy above.

Wanda Lindsay is on a mission to educate others about the dangers of sleep apnea in the trucking industry. She is also working to draft legislation that would force trucking companies to implement programs for drivers with the disorder.

Lindsay began her campaign after an accident involving herself and her husband while traveling through Texarkana.

"John and I were the last car stopped in a line of traffic that was about three miles long in a construction zone when a Celadon tractor-trailer slammed into the rear of our car," Wanda Lindsay said.

The semi-truck was traveling 65 mph with the cruise-control engaged when it hit the Lindsays' car.

John Lindsay died from his injuries two days later.

"We later discovered [the truck driver] had been diagnosed with severe uncontrolled sleep apnea, yet he was still in the cab of that truck driving and he killed my husband," Lindsay said.

She believes the truck-driver was asleep.

Event data recorders, similar to black-boxes on airplanes, now are included on most commercial trucks detailing information to the hundredth of a second. Lindsay says the recorder showed the trucker touched his brakes only seconds before crashing into them, knocking Wanda unconscious.

"He rear-ended us and t-boned our car and slammed the driver’s side, which is where John was, into the vehicle that was stopped in front of us and then the momentum propelled us into a ditch on the side of the road and he went on down the highway to strike six more vehicles before he brought his vehicle to a halt."

In the aftermath, she sought help from an attorney and discovered the truck driver had been diagnosed with sleep apnea two months prior to her accident.

"He had applied to and been denied employment by 30 other employers before he was hired by Celadon," Lindsay said.

Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which people experience pauses in breathing while sleeping, resulting in arousal which leads to sleeping in short fragments.

"The sleep fragmentation means you're not getting enough sleep at night, so you're tired during the day. So, excessive daytime sleepiness is one of the hallmarks of untreated sleep apnea," said Edward Grandi, Executive Director of the American Sleep Apnea Association.

According to Grandi, 18 million Americans have sleep apnea and among truck drivers the number is higher. He says it's because most truck drivers are male, middle-aged and overweight.

"Those three criteria (are) just physical conditions that put you at greater risk of having sleep apnea," Grandi says.

A solution, Lindsay says, would be for trucking companies to put in place sleep apnea screening and treatment programs.

"If a company had a driver who had sleep apnea, wouldn't they want to know, rather than putting him out there on the highways? Truck drivers can drive their equipment safely. If they get treated they are absolutely able to driver their vehicles without any problem at all. So that's all we want to happen, to see those truck drivers healthy, alert and responsive to what's going on around them," Lindsay says.

In December, Lindsay testified before an advisory committee of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates commercial driving. They approved two recommendations to help abate sleep apnea in truckers. One calls for drivers with a body-mass index of 35 or more to have a mandatory screening for sleep apnea. However, to date, no action has been taken.

Trucking companies like Schneider National, one of the largest in the country, have begun progressive sleep apnea programs.

"They have found that not only has their retention of drivers gone up, but their severe crashes have gone down as well as their medical costs," said Lindsay.

Over the last decade, according to Grandi, there has been a movement to offer healthier food at truck stops and to encourage drivers to exercise by offering fitness centers in some rest areas. Although they are small steps, he says, the industry is headed in the right direction.

Currently, no sleep apnea programs are offered in Arkansas. But, Kelly Crow, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Trucking Association says, all drivers do have to pass a physical examination, per federal standards.

Lindsay says with the slow pace of legislation and regulation in her home state of Texas, she's hoping federal regulation comes through in a timelier manner.

"If you're standing on I-40, every five seconds a truck goes by. So, if a third of those truck drivers have sleep apnea, it's dangerous," Lindsay said.