Driving and Legal Issues
Many people with sleep apnoea exhibit daytime sleepiness of which they are often unaware. The level of sleepiness differs from person to person, is dependent on the severity of OSA and is affected by habituation and self-medication with stimulants (eg caffeine drinks). On average, patients with OSA are at least twice as likely to have a motor vehicle accident as an average person.
Unmanaged sleep apnoea puts patients, their families and other road users at increased risk of motor accidents. Effective treatment reduces this risk. If patients are properly treated and use CPAP or other treatments effectively, sleepiness is diminished. If treatment is ineffective or neglected, even for one night, daytime sleepiness will return with a corresponding risk of accidents.
The South Australian Motor Vehicles Act requires both doctors and motorists to notify the Registrar of Motor Vehicles if they suffer from a condition which may impair their ability to drive a motor vehicle. Untreated sleep apnoea is such a condition.
If doctor and patient agree that their sleep apnoea is effectively treated, they are not exhibiting excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) and that they will continue to comply with treatment, then they can continue to drive.