OOIDA Life Member to FMCSA: Leave the medical field to the doctors

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 5/26/2016

A life member of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association shared a personal story with a panel from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration to illustrate that sleep apnea isn’t the only medical condition that can lead to fatigue.

OOIDA Life Member Tilden Curl’s comments delivered via email were read during the afternoon portion of a public listening session regarding a possible obstructive sleep apnea regulation on Wednesday, May 25, in Los Angeles. It was the last of three public listening sessions involving the FMCSA’s and FRA’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking about a possible sleep apnea testing mandate. The comment period is scheduled to end June 8.

Curl, who is an owner-operator from Olympia, Wash., with nearly 2.5 million miles, told the panel how much more simplistic the health care process was before the days of certified medical examiners and guidance from FMCSA. During his 2003 Department of Transportation physical, Curl said he told the doctor that he was tired all the time.

“He then ordered lab tests and found that my thyroid wasn’t working properly,” Curl wrote. “He prescribed the proper medicine and referred me to see a family doctor for continued care. My fatigue problem was alleviated. It is a condition that I continue to have monitored regularly. The testing and treating were relatively inexpensive with no lost work.

“If the same circumstances occurred today, the results would be very different. I would be immediately referred to a costly sleep study based on pressures applied on medical personnel by the FMCSA. This pressure could cause doctors to focus on the wrong conditions based on guidance rather than using their medical training to identify the real problem their patient might have. Today, treatment of my real problem might not even happen until much later and include treatments or tests that are unnecessary,” Curl wrote.

Curl said the FMCSA is causing complications in an issue that should be up to a driver and his or her doctor.

“FMCSA should get out of the medical field and leave that to the doctors,” Curl said. “Qualified doctors should be the only ones responsible for determining whether a person is fit to drive. A person's medical care should only be between the patient and doctor. To focus on a single condition that causes fatigue is extremely shortsighted and irresponsible.”

OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affair Scott Grenerth wrote to the FMCSA and FRA panel at a previous listening session that members have reported out-of-pocket costs for sleep apnea testing, treatment and equipment of up to $12,000. On Wednesday in Los Angeles, Kevin Walgenbach of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association said his members have had to pay up to $15,000. Time off the road can cost the driver even more money.

“When you factor in the unnecessary financial impact on drivers and their families, any rule making may actually reduce needed care and run safe drivers out of the industry,” Curl wrote. “While your intentions may be in the right place, I think the unintended consequences of this rulemaking may override the benefits and ultimately make our highways less safe. Don't underestimate the adverse impact on the industry.”

Tami Friedrich Trakh, a board member for Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, cited three fatality accidents involving tractor-trailers during Wednesday’s morning session. None of the accidents she cited referenced that sleep apnea was the cause or that the driver suffered from sleep apnea. As part of the FMCSA’s and FRA’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, the Department of Transportation cited only one incident of an accident involving a tractor-trailer that was blamed on sleep apnea. The accident occurred 16 years ago, and the report indicated several other factors as the potential cause of the crash. 

“With all due respect to the safety advocates who have lost family members and friends, I ask you to use real-world causation statistics to determine the cause of these accidents,” Curl wrote. “Recalling every accident that happened with a semi-truck and using that sentiment to promote unnecessary rules does not make our highways safer. Determine the cause of these accidents and address those issues individually.”

Written comments regarding possible sleep apnea requirements can be submitted at the Regulations.gov website or by mailing Docket Services, U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590-0001. You are asked to identify whether you are in the transportation industry or medical profession, but you can choose to remain anonymous.

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