By Sandy Long
Two years ago, Steven Burks, a former trucker now a behavior economist at the University of Minnesota, decided to do a study on obese truckers to see if there was a correlation between obesity and truck crashes. Working with Schneider International, Burk chose 744 rookie drivers with two years or less experience to participate in the study. Using BMI as a baseline, those with a BMI higher than 25 were considered overweight, while those with a BMI greater than 30 were considered obese. Burk then checked crash statistics on this set of drivers.
From TruckingInfo.com. “During their first two years on the road, drivers with a BMI higher than 35 (“severely obese”) were 43% to 55% more likely to crash than were drivers with a normal BMI, the team reports in the November issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention.”
When I first glanced at this article, I immediately went up in arms due to the first paragraph. “That there’s a direct connection between a truck driver’s crash risk and his or her body mass index. Obese truckers, during their first two years on the road, are 43% to 55% more likely to be involved in a crash when compared against those truckers with a normal BMI.” “Balderdash,” I thought.
After sleeping on it, and rereading the article, there might be just a glimmer of truth in this study, though I still think it is propaganda to further the agendas of both the FMCSA and the medical device manufacturers. I have seen drivers so obese, that they cannot fit behind the wheel without tucking their bellies down below the steering wheel by hand and cannot turn the wheel easily. Now these sizes of drivers might be unsafe, but other than that, no, I do not agree with the findings.
The study cites that “some ideas behind the increased risk may include sleep apnea, limited agility, or fatigue associated with obesity.” Sleep apnea affects many non-obese people and there are no studies or facts at all that correlate sleep apnea with truck crashes, just suppositions. It takes little agility to drive a truck down the road safely other than being able to get one’s feet to the pedals and use the steering wheel freely. While it is true that some diseases associated with obesity such as diabetes or thyroid issues may cause fatigue in obese people, I know of no studies saying that obesity alone causes fatigue.
So what is the deal here? While Schneider has one of the most comprehensive training programs in the industry, the drivers studied were still rookies with two years or less behind the wheel. Though the FMCSA has blinders on in regards to the correlation between student or rookie drivers and crashes, we drivers can attest to the fact that these training companies are usually the ones in the ditch or in trouble somehow.
This makes me wonder, with the discrimination shown to obese people, if the severely obese students did not get the quality of training the other drivers did; I would hate to think so. Trucking has always attracted people who did not fit into other professions, in the last decade or so, many obese people have entered the industry. Some have been openly discriminated against to the point that they have filed suit against companies and won. http://www.slaterross.com/McDuffy.htm
In my opinion, I think that the elephant in the room in this regard is not how big the elephant is, but in how well they were trained. This study would have much more merit if experienced drivers, five years or more, had been studied instead of rookies. That would have taken out the possibility of slanting the statistics to make the point in the agenda by using inexperienced drivers. Since I have well over 4 million miles to my credit with no accidents, and have been obese to some extent or another for all of them, I think that this study for the most part is total balderdash; and I am sticking to that.