A 2016 Harvard study found truck drivers with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) that failed to adhere to treatment were five times more likely to be involved in a preventable crash. Combine that with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) statistics stating 28 percent of commercial truck drivers suffer from mild to severe sleep apnea, and it should be clear that the trucking industry has an issue. That’s more than a quarter of truck drivers on the road suffering from a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that impacts job performance.
This issue doesn’t just affect commercial truck drivers. In light of deadly commuter train crashes linked to sleep apnea, the FMCSA and the Federal Railroad Administration issued a pre-rule notice in March 2016 seeking “data and information concerning the prevalence of moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea among individuals occupying safety sensitive positions in rail and highway transportation” to determine the need for “regulatory action to ensure consistency in addressing the safety issue presented by transportation workers with safety sensitive duties who are at risk for OSA.”
The proposal was nixed by the Trump administration in August, but senators in both the House and Senate introduced bills at the end of September to advance sleep apnea testing rules. The new bills could force the Department of Transportation (DOT) to require sleep-apnea testing and treatment for truck drivers and railroad engineers.
“Whether on the roads or the rails, the safety of the traveling public must be our highest transportation priority,” Sen. Menendez, ranking member of the Senate’s mass transit subcommittee and a co-sponsor of the Senate bill said in a press release. “This legislation would address that failure and implement this commonsense public safety policy to protect riders, save lives and make our rails and roadways safer.”
Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes brief breathing interruptions during sleep. The pauses can last upwards of 10 seconds and occur up to 400 times a night. It can severely impact restfulness, and therefore alertness and performance.
The FMCSA states on its website: “While FMCSA regulations do not specifically address sleep apnea, they do prescribe that a person with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any condition likely to interfere with their ability to drive safely cannot be medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce. However, once successfully treated, a driver may regain their ‘medically-qualified-to-drive’ status.”
An estimated 85 percent of those suffering from sleep apnea do not receive a diagnosis, though, and this calls into question how likely it is a truck driver with OSA would actually receive the care he or she needs to be truly able to perform the job safely. Even if they are receiving treatment and that does help prevent fatigue-related accidents, it does not guarantee OSA will not negatively impact drivers on the job.
As with any policy or administration change, the safety of the public should take priority. If more than a quarter of truck drivers suffer from a disease that makes the roads we all share more dangerous, the issue must be addressed.
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For more information about regulation surrounding truck accident litigation, contact Chris Glover, an attorney in our Atlanta office who handles personal injury claims. Chris recently wrote a book on truck accident litigation, An Introduction to Truck Accident Claims: A Guide to Getting Started. This book is available free to attorneys. To request a copy or download a digital copy, visit www.ChrisGlover-law.com/book. You may contact Chris by calling the firm at 800-898-2034 or email him directly at Chris.Glover@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: FMCSA, Sen. Cory Booker, National Institutes of Health