By Charlie Morasch
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro doesn’t see treating sleep apnea as the silver bullet to improving highway safety among commercial drivers.
But she believes it could be part of a “silver buckshot” approach. FMCSA is looking at sleep apnea as one of several possible culprits among highway crash causes. Ferro said that apnea screening, testing and treatment should be affordable and implementable.
“If we can integrate that buckshot in a series of research programs; events like this one; education and targeted outreach; targeted intervention – it’s all part of what FMCSA is all about,” Ferro said.
Ferro spoke at the “Sleep Apnea and Trucking” conference May 11-12 in Baltimore. The conference included a few trucking industry representatives and many doctors and medical industry professionals.
Ferro said the industry needs to do three things: Raise the bar for those entering the industry; ensure that those within the industry maintain a high standard to remain in trucking; and “we need to make sure that law enforcement, our own inspectors, and employers have the tools they need to get a high-risk operator with high-risk behaviors off the road.”
OOIDA has long held that no data exists that ties crash risk with apnea. Martin Walker, FMCSA’s chief of research, restated that the presence and severity of sleep apnea in drivers “are not good predictors of motor vehicle crash involvement.”
“There is really a need for more research that links sleep apnea and crash risk in the commercial driver population,” Walker said. “There is a need for a better screening tool to identify whether one needs to be tested for sleep apnea, and we need more outreach to raise awareness of sleep apnea.”
Many studies have looked at sleep apnea in light vehicles, Walker said, and many studies on truck drivers are inconclusive.
Fatigue is a factor in an estimated 13 percent of crashes involving commercial trucks, Ferro said, and she encouraged companies to raise the bar to improve safety figures. Proposals to regulate driver health and apnea, however, should be affordable and implementable, Ferro stressed.
“We’ve got to recognize the challenges that others in the industry face,” Ferro said. “You know, the vast majority of the trucking industry is small-business owners, and small-business owners and owner operators can’t always leverage economies of scale that large carriers can.”
OOIDA was represented at the conference by longtime Member Raphael Warshaw, Passaic, NJ. Warshaw is a pulmonary technologist with decades of experience working in sleep research and occupational health testing. A former CDL holder, he owned his truck/mobile lab for 25 years.
Warshaw told attendees it’s critical they understand the difference between treatment, regulation and interventions.
The public interest is not served if authorities take a public health issue, like smoking or apnea, and turn it into hard-line regulation, Warshaw said.
FMCSA announced it would soon unveil a new campaign called “Getting on the road to better health.” The agency also will begin a new “Study on Commercial Driver Individual Differences,” in which it will collect medical, psychological and behavioral information and data on 21,000 drivers before choosing 3,000 high-risk drivers and 3,000 control group drivers.
The agency will then compare odds ratios and other statistics to attempt to quantify the risks associated with “various driver factors.” LL