Sleep apnea proposed rulemaking clears White House

By Mark Schremmer, staff writer

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's advance notice of proposed rulemaking regarding sleep apnea cleared the Office of Management and Budget in early February.

The proposed rule, which would regulate testing and treatment of truck drivers with sleep apnea, took less than two months from the time it was sent to OMB until it received clearance.

According to the abstract of the advanced notice, the FMCSA and Federal Railroad Administration request data and information concerning the prevalence of moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea among individuals occupying safety sensitive positions in rail and highway transportation.

The agencies also request information about the potential economic impact and safety benefits of transportation workers in these positions, who exhibit multiple risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea, undergoing evaluation by a health care professional with expertise in sleep disorders and treatment.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said the attempt to regulate sleep apnea has often been a costly one for truck drivers.

"We are hopeful that the broader issue of sleep disorders and similar conditions will get a full airing," Spencer said. "We've already witnessed that those violations in the areas of driver fitness have no direct connection to crashes. That's something we've known all along."

Some medical examiners have required drivers to get sleep apnea testing based on factors like neck size alone.

"This whole issue has been a really, really costly and frustrating experience for way too many drivers," Spencer said. "Both they and we as an organization should expect a much more quality review of the issue."

Current regulations state that "a person is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if that person has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his/her ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely."

In 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that prevents FMCSA from proceeding with any regulation of sleep apnea without going through a rulemaking process. That involves public comment periods, legitimate research, cost-benefit analysis, etc. LL