OOIDA member participates in national sleep conference

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 6/17/2009

Truckers have heard many doctors attempt to link sleep apnea, truck drivers and safety for years, though the experts almost never ask drivers themselves about the issue.

One OOIDA member, however, was willing to rearrange his schedule in order to stand up for truckers and participate in a panel discussion on apnea and sleep regulations for commercial drivers.

OOIDA member Bob Stanton of Batavia, IL, recently attended and participated in Sleep 2009 – a conference of medical doctors and sleep specialists hosted by the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC.

Ironically, Stanton had to park his truck in Portland after he ran out of available hours of service. He rented a car and drove the rest of the way to Seattle, speaking on only about five hours of sleep.

Stanton was the only non-medical panelist for a discussion titled “Approaches to Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Commercial Drivers From Around the World.”

“Sleep doctors often misinterpret studies involving transportation due to a lack of knowledge of the trucking industry,” Stanton told Land Line. “I wanted to be able to discuss the research from a truck driver’s point of view.”

The discussion drew an audience Stanton estimated at between 200 and 300. Stanton said one audience member asked the panel whether a lack of available truck parking played a role in driver fatigue.

Stanton, who has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, said the group seemed interested in his opinions. He gave a three-minute presentation of his opinions. The conference originally planned to allow him a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation, but he was asked to trim it down.

“They’d never had a patient speak as a presenter,” Stanton said.

Stanton is passionate about the issue of sleep apnea, and enjoys digging into the subject.

“Instead of sitting at a loading dock playing video games on my laptop, I will read the research that the doctors quote in their mainstream articles,” Stanton said. “Of course, I do have to have a medical dictionary next to me when I do it.”

The issue of sleep apnea has been building in recent months, as have recent efforts by some physicians and medical suppliers to persuade the government to regulate truckers.

In 2008, the FMCSA Medical Review Board recommended all truckers with a BMI of 30 or greater obtain an expensive one- or two-night sleep study at a lab. FMCSA hasn’t taken action on the recommendation.

Dr. Barbara Phillips, past chair of the National Sleep Foundation, an association of sleep study labs, is a medical review board member and participated in the discussion with Stanton.

Stanton said both Phillips and Dr. Allan Pack admitted that a “major hole” exists in the amount of available research linking sleep apnea and any increased risk of crashes from commercial motor vehicle operators.

Also, several doctors Stanton spoke to said they didn’t believe BMI was an appropriate guide to screen potential apnea patients, and said they were open to other possibilities.

Pack, who famously authored a controversial study that was once discredited but later cited by the Medical Review Board, listed CPAP manufacturer Respironics as a grant/research supporter under the sleep conference’s conflict of interest statement.

CPAPs are machines used to treat apnea patients.

OOIDA has asked the FMCSA Medical Review Board to include a physician with knowledge of the trucking industry on the board.

Tom Weakley, director of operations at the OOIDA Foundation, recently wrote about the apnea issue in a blog entry on the OOIDA.com Web site. Weakley’s blog can be read by clicking here.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

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