As per recent reports, the DOT has withdrawn a sleep apnea rule meant to establish criteria for instituting sleep apnea screening requirements for truck drivers.
According to a study by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) and the University of Pennsylvania, approximately 28% of commercial drivers in the United States of America suffer from sleep apnea.
If left undiagnosed, sleep apnea can be life threatening. Among other conditions, sleep apnea can cause breathing interruptions of up to 10 seconds — which is a concern for commercial drivers controlling huge vehicles. After all, a negative effect on the reaction time may increase the probability of road accidents.
The sleep apnea proposed rule got the attention of the industry once again when it was withdrawn by the DOT this month because of “logistical and financial concerns”.
It is important to note that the FMCSA worked persistently on the sleep apnea screening rule throughout 2016. Sleep apnea-focused meetings and listening sessions were held around the country, but the agency concluded that they couldn’t gather enough data to warrant a rule-making.
If passed, the sleep apnea rule would have used to give clarity to truck drivers, carrier employers, as well as medical examiners to set criteria for prompting a driver to be referred for an in-lab apnea test. Additionally, it would have also helped in treatment protocols.
In the end, the DOT agreed that the current safety and driver fatigue risk management programs are sufficient and more appropriate avenues to deal with this.
An email statement by the DOT says, “Safety is the Department’s top priority. FMCSA and FRA received valuable information in response to the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) and a series of public listening sessions on Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in 2016, but did not receive sufficient data to support future rulemaking at this time.”
A Federal Register posting adds, “The agencies believe that current safety programs and FRA’s rulemaking address fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address [obstructive sleep apnea].”
It is also important to highlight that many industry groups were looking forward to this rule — despite some of the logical and financial concerns. For instance, the National Transportation Safety Board has been recommending sleep apnea screening for truckers for several years. Christopher O’Neil, an NTSB spokesman, said that the agency was “disappointed” with the decision of withdrawing the rule.
The FMCSA, however, said that it would consider updating its existing sleep apnea guidance. This update could include recommendations that two agency advisory committees made last fall.
According to those recommendations, truck operators with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher should be flagged for screening. Additionally, truck operators with a BMI of 33 or higher should be flagged for screening if they also meet certain other criteria.