FMCSA will seek apnea regulation for truckers

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 6/6/2014

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration intends to pursue a rule that could lead to testing truck and bus drivers for sleep apnea, an administration spokeswoman confirmed.

The confirmation comes in the wake of statements by FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro to a Senate subcommittee this week that muddied the waters about the agency’s intentions.

“FMCSA will issue a notice to address obstructive sleep apnea through the formal rulemaking process after collecting the necessary data and research,” FMCSA Communications Director Marissa Padilla told Land Line Magazine on Thursday, June 5.

Two days earlier, Administrator Ferro had answered “We are absolutely not,” during a line of questioning from Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., at a hearing on transportation safety by the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Securty, part of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

As Land Line reported, Blunt began the exchange by asking whether the FMCSA was abiding by a recent law passed by Congress that requires the administration to go through a proper rulemaking and public comment process before it can issue regulations on testing truckers for apnea.

Ferro assured Blunt and the subcommittee that the FMCSA was following the rules in all guidance supplied to certified medical examiners – those who determine whether CDL holders meet physical qualifications to operate commercial vehicles.

Toward the end of the exchange, Blunt asked if the FMCSA planned to do a rule – later clarified by Blunt’s office as a question about apnea – to which Ferro answered in the negative.

But the administrator may have believed she was answering a different question, Padilla said.

“She was trying to make the point that FMCSA was not circumventing Congress’ direction under the law that they passed to pursue guidance to obstructive sleep apnea through a formal rulemaking and comment process,” Padilla said. “I think that’s what she was trying to get at, and it obviously got confused there. We’re going to try to correct the official record.”

Padilla said the FMCSA will clarify the issue with Blunt and the other lawmakers on the subcommittee.

The agency has no written information available about its intention to pursue an apnea rule, Padilla said.

“We plan on collecting and analyzing data and research and we’ll issue a notice in the Federal Register to initiate a formal rulemaking, but that is not in the works right now,” Padilla said.

Ferro made a point during the hearing to say that medical examiners already possess the discretion to evaluate disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea, before issuing medical cards to drivers.

“Medical examiners are expected when they examine a truck or bus driver and determine if they meet the physical qualifications for holding a commercial driver’s license, to include a full examination of chronic conditions and conditions that could affect that driver’s ability to be alert and at all times conscious behind the wheel,” Ferro told the subcommittee.

“So, among those conditions that they’ve always looked at have been breathing disorders and pulmonary disorders that obstructive sleep disorders fall into.”

See related story about the hearing:
Senate subcommittee delves deep into trucking issues

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