THURSDAY, Jan. 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Truck drivers spend long hours behind the wheel and often eat less-than-healthy food at roadside stops. These behaviors can raise their risk of multiple health conditions, which boost their chances of getting into a crash, a new study suggests.
Researchers examined data from more than 49,000 commercial truck drivers and found that 34 percent had at least one of several health problems -- such as heart disease, low back pain and diabetes -- that have been linked with poor driving performance.
Truck drivers with three or more of the flagged medical conditions were two to four times more likely to be in a crash than their healthier peers, the University of Utah researchers found.
For example, the rate of crashes resulting in injury among all truck drivers was 29 per 100 million miles traveled, but was 93 per 100 million miles traveled for drivers with three or more of the identified health problems.
However, the study wasn't designed to prove a cause-and-effect link.
"What these data are telling us is that with decreasing health comes increased crash risk, including crashes that truck drivers could prevent," study lead author Matthew Thiese said in a university news release.
Current guidelines prevent truckers with a major health problem from driving, but the guidelines don't address numerous minor symptoms, the study authors said.
"Right now, conditions are thought of in isolation. There's no guidance for looking at multiple conditions in concert," said Thiese. He's an assistant professor at Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (RMCOEH).
The researchers said the fact that occupants of other vehicles are hurt in three-quarters of injury crashes involving trucks makes this a public health issue.
According to study senior author Dr. Kurt Hegmann, director of RMCOEH, "If we can better understand the interplay between driver health and crash risk, then we can better address safety concerns."
The study was published online recently in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Driving Healthy offers health tips for truck drivers.