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Bus driver in fatal crash suffered from sleep apnea

37 Comments

The 37-year-old driver of a bus that crashed into two trucks parked at a service area in Oyabe, Toyama Prefecture, early Monday morning, suffered from sleep apnea, it was revealed Tuesday.

The driver, Kazuya Obata, and a 48-year-old male passenger, Yoshihiro Ono, died when the bus crashed into the trucks at around 5:10 a.m. Ten other passengers and one of the truck drivers suffered injuries and were taken to hospital, Fuji TV reported.

Shortly before the accident occurred, some passengers told police they saw the bus driver nodding off. One passenger was quoted by Fuji TV as saying he called out to the driver, "Hey, wake up!" However, there was no response.

According to police, footage from surveillance cameras at the service area where the trucks were parked showed the bus was speeding. It drifted from the main road and collided into the guard rail 600 meters before knocking the first truck aide and then hitting the second truck. The bus driver's seat was completely crushed by the impact.

Japanese media reported that the president of the bus operator, Miyagi Transportation Corp, said that Obata had been diagnosed with sleep apnea last year. He had been driving overnight express buses for the company since 2011.

On Sunday night's bus service from Sendai to Kaga Onsen hot springs resort in Ishikawa Prefecture, there was a 53-year-old substitute driver. The two drivers took turns every three hours. Obata was 2 1/2 hours into his third turn at the wheel when the accident occurred, police said.

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37 Comments
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Sleep apnea? That doesn't cause you to fall asleep...

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

While sleep apnea can lead to exhaustion, perhaps the writer has confused sleep apnea with narcolepsy?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Sleep apnea means that your breathing stops very often during the night ( sometimes > 60 times/hour!) and as a result you don't get a decent sleep and are therefore tired/drowsy throughout the day. It certainly can cause you to sleep during the day and if diagnosed must be treated. A breathing device (mask) called a CPAP is used and this helps to force air to your lungs and facilitate uninterrupted sleep.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

No, sleep apnea is correct.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My dad suffers from the syndrome. That's one reason he is not a commercial driver. (Another is that he's a Harvard/Stanford grad who worked at Intel.)

I can't imagine why they don't screen drivers for things like this.

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

BuBuBuMar. 04, 2014 - 12:57PM JST Sleep apnea? That doesn't cause you to fall asleep...

If you have severe sleep apnea that interferes with your sleep you might nod off I suppose. Or they're just mixing up the terminology and he had narcolepsy. Diagnosed for a year without medicines. :P

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Another bus crash because of a sleepy driver?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Do these companies have no criteria against hiring, such as epilepsy or sleep disorders? How many times do we have to hear about the fact that companies knew, or failed to do background checks, on employees that get into accidents resulting in deaths?

Sleep apnea is often caused by obesity and/or incessant heavy drinking/smoking, etc. In other words, bad lifestyle. That in turn, as others have pointed out, can lead to exhaustion because you never get a natural, restive sleep. These people will snore like the Dickens, then stop breathing, and wake up violently with a jerk, which can cause extreme stress to the heart. Or, they never quite fall asleep due to myclonic jerks.

In any case, I hope the company faces charges of criminal neglect.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Someone with mild (apnea-hypopnea index 10) obstructive sleep apnea has a 6.3 times higher risk of a car crash than the normal population (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10080847). Any sort of apnea at all results in an increased risk of a car accident. However obstructive sleep apnea is very common, affecting about 9% of middle-aged men and 4% of middle-aged women.

Epilepsy, which I include because in many countries epileptics have been banned from driving, has shown no increased risk of driving accidents (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1073944/).

The real problem is fatigue. In a very good paper by Smolensky, Milia, Ohayon and Philip in 2011 (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457509003182) they explore the link between various medical conditions and accident risk. To save you reading the whole paper they discover that many very common medical conditions affect sleep quality, and that this results in day-time fatigue. In short, you're unlikely to have an asthma attack or a heart attack while you're driving, but the underlying condition makes you sleepy, and driving sleepy is the problem.

HOWEVER (note, this is a BIG however) in Japan most people are chronically sleep-deprived and so it is both arbitrary and unfair to single out those suffering medical conditions for persecution. The simple fact is that most Japanese drivers are driving fatigued, and this is undoubtedly a major contributor to the accident rate in Japan, regardless of whether or not there are underlying medical conditions. Probing into people's private medical backgrounds is unnecessary and prejudicial, a simple fatigue test is all that is required.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

poor passenger that died ...

2 ( +3 / -1 )

apnea or narcolepsy it doesn't matter, it's terrible this happened AGAIN. remember the bus crash last year in Gunma that killed 7 people also due to the driver falling asleep (apnea if I remember the news item correctly). They need to screen people better.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

yea not sure what having sleep apnea has to do with him falling asleep and crashing...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Any sleeping disorders should raise red flags when the employee is operating ANY heavy equipment, ESPECIALLY when many lives depend on that employee being aware and awake.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Then why was he hired for this job again?????? RIP "sigh"

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Any sleeping disorders should raise red flags when the employee is operating ANY heavy equipment, ESPECIALLY when many lives depend on that employee being aware and awake.

Something of a statement of the bleedin' obvious in the context of this article.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Bit odd that he suffered from sleep apnea but was allowed to drive a bus.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

HOw many accidents here have been caused by people with medical conditions that really have no business driving? One is too many. I can think of three others off the top of my head.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

So, why was he driving a bus? Remember the epileptic crane driver that killed those kids not so long ago? If it is determined the bus company was aware of his sleeping disorder they should be held equally accountable.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Don't forget the guy in Kyoto Dis!

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I never knew about this condition and i bet millions never heard of it either. thumbs up to all the experts here who had to google it to make a comment.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

A breathing device (mask) called a CPAP is used and this helps to force air to your lungs and facilitate uninterrupted sleep.

I wish we had known about that before my fiancé lapsed into a coma, never to awake again... (He suffered frm sleep apnea).

Poor passenger ! RIP.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The 48-year-old male passenger, Yoshihiro Ono, was apparently a teacher at one of the high schools here in Kanazawa. A recent transplant from Tohoku, he came to work here after the earthquake, tsunami, etc. His family still in Sendai, he was on his way back home to see his 18-year-old son graduate from high school.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They should have a physical exam requirement. Must be horrible to be in such accidents. May their souls rest in peace.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

driving sleepy is the problem

How unbelievably ironic.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Frungy: "Epilepsy, which I include because in many countries epileptics have been banned from driving, has shown no increased risk of driving accidents (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1073944/)."

Yeah... how many people did that guy kill in an epileptic attack while driving a crane last year? seven? nine? I forget. But hey, no increase at all, right?

"HOWEVER (note, this is a BIG however) in Japan most people are chronically sleep-deprived and so it is both arbitrary and unfair to single out those suffering medical conditions for persecution. The simple fact is that most Japanese drivers are driving fatigued, and this is undoubtedly a major contributor to the accident rate in Japan, regardless of whether or not there are underlying medical conditions. Probing into people's private medical backgrounds is unnecessary and prejudicial, a simple fatigue test is all that is required."

So, we should treat those who are even more likely to cause accidents based on sleep deprivation beyond the norm by not bothering to consider the safety of our clients? Should we allow narcoleptics, sleep apnea sufferers, and epileptics (etc.) to fly planes because JAL might deprive their pilots of sleep anyway? (as an example) Your 'argument' makes no sense. When it comes to a job where the lives of others are in your hands, any illness deserves thorough checking and concern. It's not 'persecution', it's common sense. But hey, I'd like to see you get on a bus/plane knowing the company hires people with sleep disorders for long range trips.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

smithinjapanMar. 05, 2014 - 01:12AM JST

Frungy: "Epilepsy, which I include because in many countries epileptics have been banned from driving, has shown no increased risk of driving accidents (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1073944/)."

Yeah... how many people did that guy kill in an epileptic attack while driving a crane last year? seven? nine? I forget. But hey, no increase at all, right?

Yes, no increase in the number of accidents. An epileptic is no more likely to have a car accident than anyone else. You have a problem with the paper I referenced then contact the authors.

"HOWEVER (note, this is a BIG however) in Japan most people are chronically sleep-deprived and so it is both arbitrary and unfair to single out those suffering medical conditions for persecution. The simple fact is that most Japanese drivers are driving fatigued, and this is undoubtedly a major contributor to the accident rate in Japan, regardless of whether or not there are underlying medical conditions. Probing into people's private medical backgrounds is unnecessary and prejudicial, a simple fatigue test is all that is required."

So, we should treat those who are even more likely to cause accidents based on sleep deprivation beyond the norm by not bothering to consider the safety of our clients? Should we allow narcoleptics, sleep apnea sufferers, and epileptics (etc.) to fly planes because JAL might deprive their pilots of sleep anyway? (as an example) Your 'argument' makes no sense. When it comes to a job where the lives of others are in your hands, any illness deserves thorough checking and concern. It's not 'persecution', it's common sense. But hey, I'd like to see you get on a bus/plane knowing the company hires people with sleep disorders for long range trips.

You clearly didn't understand my argument. My argument is that sleep deprivation causes accidents. It can be caused by many, many conditions, and testing for them all would be time-consuming, insanely expensive, and just plain daft. However, there are several devices on the market that could be used to test fatigue levels for drivers/pilots/etc, as well as devices that monitor drivers/pilots during their working hours.

What I was arguing was that if fatigue is the problem then, instead of making generalized assumptions about everyone with asthma, a heart condition, sleep apnea, seasonal allergies, etc (just those four alone cover about 90% of the population), why not test for the real problem, fatigue. It takes literally a minute or two before the shift, then a few seconds during a shift to do regular fatigue tests. The fatigue monitors are pretty clever really, and record your individual fatigue levels, driving stability, etc. and project when you're need to take a break.

The problem here isn't the underlying conditions, 90% of us have one or more of them, so effectively this move is criminalising 90% of the population who are driving. Instead the problem is fatigue. ... and the irony is that in Japan the remaining 10% are also sleep-deprived, so even if you got the 90% off the road the number of accidents per driver wouldn't change, because you haven't addressed the problem, driver fatigue, at all.

I apologise if I have been a little repetitive, but you didn't seem to understand the first time, so I've tried to be clearer.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Apnea, huh? BS. Wait till the investigators pour over the time records of this driver.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I do not believe that apnea is the cause of this tragic accident. Once the driving logs are carefully examined, I do believe they will find that this driver was overworked and suffering from exhaustion.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The paper this morning said he had worked eleven days in a row. Maybe that had something to do with it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Company excuse for not admitting the guy was overworked?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

again, sleep apnea does NOT affect sleep patterns , what is causes is if you sleeping- while you sleeping - you might stop breathing , there is no connection between this accident and him having sleep apnea except that his company is trying to blame that instead of taking the fault for overworking the person.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Alex EinzMar. 05, 2014 - 12:52PM JST again, sleep apnea does NOT affect sleep patterns , what is causes is if you sleeping- while you sleeping - you might stop breathing , there is no connection between this accident and him having sleep apnea

Sadly actual published and peer-reviewed research disagrees with your opinion. Someone with mild (apnea-hypopnea index 10) obstructive sleep apnea has a 6.3 times higher risk of a car crash than the normal population (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10080847).

This, of course, assumes that the sleep apnea was untreated. If it was treated then the condition would be completely irrelevant. And this is what I'm getting at in my posts, just having a condition isn't enough, it also has to be untreated, you have to have a typical (rather than atypical) reaction, etc. Rather test for actual fatigue... but since that would put 99.9% of all drivers in Japan off the roads they'd rather go on a witch hunt than actually deal with the real reason.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

How is this even possible, I mean how is this allowed to happen, the driver is diagnosed with a sleep disorder but given a driving job driving buses over night, holly sheet. Many things in Japan leave me baffled and this is just one more of those baffling events.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sadly actual published and peer-reviewed research disagrees with your opinion. Someone with mild (apnea-hypopnea index 10) obstructive sleep apnea has a 6.3 times higher risk of a car crash than the normal population (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10080847).

If you read the full text of that study, you'll see the study was skewed to ensure the expected result. Accident rates in the "random" control group were artificially suppressed - ensuring an impressive figure in the case group:

Control subjects were randomly selected from among patients in three primary health care centers in Burgos and three in Santander. Patients with known chronic illnesses and those who had been involved in a traffic accident in the previous two months were excluded from the control group.

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199903183401104#t=article

Can't have those pesky control subjects getting in accidents and mucking-up our nice study, can we? ;-)

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Fadamor, exactly skewed medical research! Frungy yes I would expect people that cant wake up suddenly to have more traffic accidents but that has nothing to do with them falling asleep in the first place... sleep apnea does not cause you to fall asleep, just not being able to wake up.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is on more reason why I refuse to take tour buses.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

FadamorMar. 06, 2014 - 06:05AM JST If you read the full text of that study, you'll see the study was skewed to ensure the expected result. Accident rates in the "random" control group were artificially suppressed - ensuring an impressive figure in the case group:

Fair enough comment. Try these studies then: http://www.atsjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1164/ajrccm/138.2.337 7 x higher risk http://www.atsjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1164/ajrccm.158.1.9709135 2.2 x higher risk http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15389588.2013.830213 2.74 x higher risk

I could go on, but there are literally dozens of papers on this subject showing a higher risk of car accidents with obstructive sleep apnea. I'm not having a go at people with obstructive sleep apnea, what I'm saying is that you should get it treated. Go and get assessed, but a machine and you should be fine. The machine and mask are a bit pricey initially, but it is well worth the investment, even if you JUST consider you car insurance.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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