Sleep Apnea, Sleepiness, and Driving Risk in Noncommercial Drivers

Publication Date: June 3, 2013
Last Updated: September 2, 2022


All patients being initially evaluated for suspected or confirmed OSA should be asked about daytime sleepiness, especially falling asleep unintentionally and inappropriately during daily activities, as well as recent unintended motor vehicle crashes or near-misses attributable to sleepiness, fatigue, or inattention. Patients with these characteristics are deemed high-risk drivers and should be immediately warned about the potential risk of driving until effective therapy is instituted. (C, VL)

Additional information that should be elicited during an initial visit for suspected or confirmed OSA includes the clinical severity of the OSA and therapies that the patient has received, including behavioral interventions. Adherence and response to therapy should be assessed at subsequent visits. The drowsy driving risk should be reassessed at subsequent visits if it was initially increased. (, )

For patients in whom there is a high clinical suspicion of OSA and who have been deemed high-risk drivers:

The ATS suggests that polysomnography be performed and, if indicated, treatment initiated as soon as possible, rather than delayed until convenient. (, VL)

The ATS recognizes that the duration that constitutes “as soon as possible” will vary according to the resources available, but ATS favors the goal of less than 1 month. For appropriately selected patients (e.g., no comorbidities, high clinical suspicion for OSA), at-home portable monitoring is a reasonable alternative to polysomnography.

weak recommendation

The ATS suggests NOT using empiric continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for the sole purpose of reducing driving risk. (, VL)
weak recommendation

For patients with confirmed OSA who have been deemed high-risk drivers, the ATS recommends CPAP therapy to reduce driving risk, rather than no treatment (S, M)
This suggestion is for CPAP because only its effects on driving performance have been well studied. Other treatments that could accomplish the same goal have not been evaluated.

For patients with suspected or confirmed OSA who have been deemed high-risk drivers, the ATS suggests NOT using stimulant medications for the sole purpose of reducing driving risk (, VL)

weak recommendation


Recommendation Grading




Sleep Apnea, Sleepiness, and Driving Risk in Noncommercial Drivers

Authoring Organization

Publication Month/Year

June 3, 2013

Last Updated Month/Year

June 26, 2023

Document Type


External Publication Status


Country of Publication


Inclusion Criteria

Female, Male, Adult, Older adult

Health Care Settings


Intended Users

Nurse, nurse practitioner, physician, physician assistant


Assessment and screening, Prevention, Management

Diseases/Conditions (MeSH)

D012890 - Sleep, D000077260 - Sleepiness


sleepiness, driving risk, sleep apnea

Supplemental Methodology Resources

Data Supplement