Ulterior motives: sleep apnea

By Joe Rajkovacz
OOIDA regulatory affairs specialist


Proposed testing of “obese” drivers for sleep apnea when they take their DOT physicals has created a cottage industry of special interests who profess concern for your physical well-being and highway safety. Talk about a winning combination. Who can oppose those two issues, especially when they’re linked?

Driver health and highway safety are important. But anytime the regulatory process involves this many different entities – all with a vested financial interest in how your health is perceived – you better hold onto your wallet and hold on to the privacy protections most Americans take for granted.

It’s not even a mandate yet, but increasingly motor carriers are demanding that drivers be tested for sleep apnea either at time of hire or during the renewal of their DOT physicals.

If your body mass index says you are “obese” – and a 5-foot-10-inch guy who weighs 210 registers 30.1 on the BMI scale and is therefore considered “obese” – the FMCSA medical advisory board is pushing that you be tested for sleep apnea.

Unfortunately, being diagnosed with sleep apnea can end up being a scarlet letter around your neck, decreasing employment opportunities.

Drivers can become permanently yoked to a carrier with few options for other employment, not to mention future difficulty with health insurability should you terminate employment with your current motor carrier.

While there is a big difference between sleep apnea and the interrupted sleep patterns experienced by most drivers as a result of industry indifference to unreasonable time demands, the same link to highway safety exists. Yet nobody, not industry nor the federal government, is taking steps to deal with the latter. Could there be an ulterior motive?

The lobby for sleep apnea testing realizes that significant money can be made through this proposed mandate.

Here is a novel idea: How about dealing with the underlying root causes of why drivers suffer from many various maladies instead of treating only the symptom. But then, where’s the profit in that? LL