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DOT considers rulemaking to address sleep apnea-prone truck drivers

Per National Transportation Safety Board recommendation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is seeking through June 8 public input on the impacts of screening, evaluating and treating commercial motor vehicle drivers for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The agency poses 20 questions it deems will provide the necessary information before determining whether or not to pursue a proposed rule.

“It is imperative for everyone’s safety that commercial motor vehicle drivers be fully focused and immediately responsive at all times,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “DOT strongly encourages comment from the public on how to best respond to this national health and transportation safety issue.”

“Collection and analysis of sound data on the impact of OSA must be our immediate first step,” adds FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling. “We call upon the public to help us better understand the prevalence of OSA among commercial truck drivers, as well as the safety and economic impacts on the [industry].”

An Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is FMCSA’s first step to outlining OSA-specific requirements for commercial driver license holders. The agency describes OSA as “a respiratory disorder characterized by reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep[;] repeated episodes of airway collapse in the upper throat that results in intermittent periods of partial airflow obstruction (hypopneas), complete airflow obstruction (apneas), and respiratory effort-related arousals from sleep in which affected individuals awaken partially and may experience gasping and choking as they struggle to breathe.”

OSA risk factors include male gender, obesity, large neck size, anatomically small throat, advancing age and family history. Sleep apnea is also associated with increased risk for such adverse health conditions as high blood pressure, diabetes, irregular heartbeat, heart attack and stroke. DOT officials cite estimates of up to 22 million men and women suffering from undiagnosed OSA. Beyond unintended sleep episodes, moderate to severe OSA can cause deficits in attention, concentration, situational awareness, memory, and the capacity to respond to hazards when performing safety-sensitive service. The size and scope of the potential problem, DOT contends, means that OSA presents a critical safety issue for all transportation modes and operations.

The agency presently recommends medical examiners detecting respiratory dysfunctions refer commercial motor vehicle drivers for further evaluation and therapy. A January 2015 bulletin reminds healthcare professionals on the FMCSA’s National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners of the current physical qualifications standard and advisory criteria concerning the respiratory system—specifically how the requirements apply to drivers that may have OSA.

FMCSA is conducting the survey and posting comments at www.fmcsa.dot.gov. National Ready Mixed Concrete Association Compliance and Operations staff will prepare comments on behalf of producer members, and participate in the three public listening sessions the Department of Transportation and FMCSA officials have scheduled for Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles.