Driving Safety and Fitness to Drive in Sleep Disorders

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Driving an automobile while sleepy increases the risk of crash-related injury and death. Neurologists see patients with sleepiness due to obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and a wide variety of neurologic disorders. When addressing fitness to drive, the physician must weigh patient and societal health risks and regional legal mandates. The Driver Fitness Medical Guidelines published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) provide assistance to clinicians. Drivers with obstructive sleep apnea may continue to drive if they have no excessive daytime sleepiness and their apnea-hypopnea index is less than 20 per hour. Those with excessive daytime sleepiness or an apnea-hypopnea index of 20 per hour or more may not drive until their condition is effectively treated. Drivers with sleep disorders amenable to pharmaceutical treatment (eg, narcolepsy) may resume driving as long as the therapy has eliminated excessive daytime sleepiness. Following these guidelines, documenting compliance to recommended therapy, and using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to assess subjective sleepiness can be helpful in determining patients’ fitness to drive.

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