Federal government to screen for truckers with sleep disorders

October 29, 2013

The federal government has been tightening regulations on commercial drivers for some time, and now they’re tackling the issue of drivers with sleep disorders. Under HR 3095, a bill which President Obama signed in the midst of the 2013 government shutdown, the Federal Motor Carrying Service Administration (FMCSA) must use a full rulemaking proceeding for a new or revised requirement for screening or treating commercial motor vehicle drivers suffering from sleep disorders.

The administrative maneuver means that body of rules governing U.S. executive agencies, stakeholders like trucking companies as well as medical authorities will be able to comment on any new requirements, and the agency making any new rules about the issue will have to respond to those comments. On the other hand, the federal government will have an easier time passing new regulations by fiat, since the FMCSA has already been given authority by Congress to manage commercial drivers.

Driver asleep on the wheel

Asleep at the wheel. Image by slava.

What are the benefits?

“If FMCSA were to act through a formal rulemaking process rather than a guidance, the rule would be categorized as economically significant under (Office of Management and Budget) directives,” wrote the authors of the bill, Larry Bucshon and Daniel Lipinski.

This means that a FMCSA rulemaking proceeding “would include requiring that a full cost-benefit and regulatory impact analysis be used,” which is not the case when it issues a guidance, according to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“The rulemaking process allows for medical experts, the regulated community, including professional drivers, to provide valuable data and input for the agency to consider in developing its regulations,” says American Trucking Association’s CEO and President Bill Graves.

Drivers need to pass an exam

Currently, the only requirement for commercial motor vehicle drivers is that they have “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,” says Dr. Natalie Hartenbaum, an expert on transportation medicine.

Commercial motor vehicle drivers must pass an exam to get a two-year valid medical certificate. Over 4.6 million individuals take this test annually. The FMCSA believes that nearly 28 percent of commercial vehicle drivers may have sleep apnea, named as a disorder in the new law.

According to research, if sleep apnea is not treated, sufferers could be more likely to crash vehicles. Sleep apnea is a breathing-related disorder in which there are short pauses of breathing while sleeping.

The gaps can be up to 10 seconds and as frequent as 400 times a night. These pauses can have serious consequences like heart disease, strokes, and crashes due to falling asleep at the wheel because of not having restful spells of sleep.

“There are more than 3 million professional truck drivers and the cost of screening, diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea could easily exceed $1 billion annually,” says Graves.

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Category: Enforcement, Road safety, Trucks

About the Author ()

A graduate in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India, Nupur also has an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. Nupur is currently trying to be as savvy a cook as she is with a book. She likes watching plays and sunsets. Nupur first lived in Kolkata and then for a decade in Delhi, still her favorite city.

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