Truck drivers who have obstructive sleep apnea and who do not attempt to adhere to a mandated treatment program have a fivefold increase in the risk of a severe crash, according to a new study co-authored by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute researchers and featured in the March 21 online edition of the journal Sleep. Drivers who did not follow the sleep apnea treatment administered by the study fleet were discharged or quit, having been retained only one-third as long as drivers who did adhere to the treatment program. The study observed that 60 percent of drivers who chose not to accept the mandated sleep apnea treatment quit voluntarily before they were discharged. While the treatment program analyzed in the study saw the removal of drivers who were non-compliant with the program, current federal regulations allow those drivers to keep their diagnosis of sleep apnea private, enabling them to work at another trucking firm. "These results are important because, currently, drivers who are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea at a specific trucking firm with an internal mandated treatment program, and who choose not to accept treatment, can just quit and hire on with a firm that does not have such a program," said Jeff Hickman, one of the study co-authors and a research scientist with the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Soon, the federal government may require all commercial truckers, bus drivers and railroad workers to undergo screening for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disease that can lead to drowsy driving and increase the risk of crashes. The Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are taking the first step toward that potential rule, which could also mandate treatment for those diagnosed, by gathering public comments until July 8. "It is imperative for everyone's safety that commercial motor vehicle drivers and train operators be fully focused and immediately responsive at all times," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement in March, when the DOT announced the proposal. "DOT strongly encourages comment from the public on how to best respond to this national health and transportation safety issue." While sleep experts say the rules would promote public safety as well as commercial operators' wellbeing, some associations have criticized the idea, questioning the validity of reported OSA and fatigue statistics, and arguing current medical examinations that rely on self-reporting are sufficient. "There is insufficient data linking OSA and higher crash rates," Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), told FoxNews.com in an email.
Fatigue is one of the leading causes of deadly traffic accidents and railroad crashes. It turns out truck drivers and train operators are more likely than other people to suffer from a common sleep disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea. Federal regulators want to require them to be screened for obstructive sleep apnea. And that's proving to be controversial, as NPR's David Schaper reports. DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Just before 2:30 in the morning on August 17, 2014, two Union Pacific freight trains were heading toward one another on the same tracks near the small town of Hoxie, Ark.
WASHINGTON – U.S. officials are abandoning plans to require sleep apnea screening for truck drivers and train engineers, a decision that safety experts say puts millions of lives at risk. The Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said late last week that they are no longer pursuing the regulation that would require testing for the fatigue-inducing disorder that's been blamed for deadly rail crashes in New York City and New Jersey and several highway crashes. The agencies argue that it should be up to railroads and trucking companies to decide whether to test employees. One railroad that does test, Metro-North in the New York City suburbs, found that 11.6 percent of its engineers have sleep apnea. The decision to kill the sleep apnea regulation is the latest step in President Donald Trump's campaign to drastically slash federal regulations.