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Evidence doesn’t show need for sleep apnea testing mandate, OOIDA says

AS REPORTED BY MARK SCHREMMER FOR LANDLINE MAG

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is speaking out against a bill that would force the U.S. Department of Transportation to push through a rule to mandate sleep apnea testing for trucker drivers.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced the bill on Thursday, Sept. 28. While the full text of the bill hadn’t been released as of Friday afternoon, Booker’s news release said the legislation would require the DOT “to implement the proposed rule mandating sleep apnea testing and treatment for rail operators and commercial truck drivers that was abruptly reversed by the Trump Administration last month.”

However, there never was a proposed rule that mandated sleep apnea testing.

Instead, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration joined together in March 2016 for an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that sought data and information concerning the prevalence of moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea among individuals occupying safety-sensitive positions in highway and rail transportation. There was no call for a mandate. Rather, it was an opportunity to gather information to see if a proposed rule was necessary.

The FMCSA held three public listening sessions on the topic and received comments from truck drivers, fleet owners and medical professionals. A survey released by the American Transportation Research Institute found that 53 percent of drivers pay out-of-pocket for sleep studies, meaning a mandate would be a hefty burden on truck drivers. OOIDA issued formal comments against a possible rulemaking, citing reports that show there is insufficient data to show a relationship between moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea and increased crash risk.

In July, the FMCSA released a report in July that said the agency “has determined there is not enough information available to support moving forward with a rulemaking action, and so the rulemaking will be withdrawn.” The withdrawal was made official in August.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there have been 10 fatality crashes in the past 17 years that listed sleep apnea as the probable cause. Only two of those 10 involved heavy-duty trucks. One involved a motor coach, and the other six were railroad crashes.

OOIDA said the evidence doesn’t show the need for a mandate.

“In their notice of withdrawal just last month, the FMCSA and FRA stated, ‘The Agencies believe that current safety programs and FRA’s rulemaking addressing fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address obstructive sleep apnea,’” said Jay Grimes, OOIDA’s manager of federal affairs. “The withdrawal came after more than a yearlong review of March 2016 advanced notice of proposed rulemaking. We certainly have not seen any new evidence since the withdrawal or really any conclusive data at all, showing a link between obstructive sleep apnea and higher crash risk for commercial motor vehicle drivers.”

The AFL-CIO also spoke out against Booker’s bill.

“Any legislation that regulates sleep apnea must ensure employees are not saddled with excessive treatment and testing costs,” AFL-CIO President Larry I. Willis said in a statement. “Additionally, those successfully treating sleep apnea should not encounter significant disruptions to work schedules or loss of employment.

“Regulating and evaluating sleep apnea is only one piece of the fatigue puzzle.”

The full text of Booker’s bill is expected to be released next week.

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