Last week, two agencies within the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that they would no longer pursue rules about sleep apnea screening and treatment for truck drivers and rail engineers. The rule was embattled by industry lobbyists, and the rule withdrawal was intended as an industry-friendly move. But it’s unclear whether the rule will really help truckers, since it leaves in place a confusing and incomplete set of guidelines and recommendations.
The formal process of rulemaking for a sleep apnea guideline began in March 2016, when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) started seeking to formalize the previous guidelines for sleep apnea screening and treatment.
The DOT agencies were working under a mandate from Congress–a rare bipartisan legislation that demanded the agencies work through the formal rulemaking process rather than issue straightforward guidelines.
Under the current rules, many truckers and trucking companies have been uncertain what is expected of them in terms of screening and treatment. This has led to some confusion, and even tension between carriers and their doctors. Some have even accused doctors and equipment manufacturers of trying to profiteer from unclear rules.
With the current guidelines in place for the foreseeable future, these tensions will likely continue. And carriers may find themselves at risk for lawsuits alleging negligence if they don’t screen their drivers adequately.
Proposed Rules Would Be Expensive
On the other hand, truckers and trucking companies weren’t exactly sure they wanted the rule as it was. Some industry analysts suggested that from 25-40% of truckers might have to be screened for sleep apnea under the new rules. This is in line with independent estimates suggesting that about this many truck drivers have sleep apnea.
With that high proportion of drivers needing to be screened and treated, the costs for the industry would have been expensive.
Sacrificing Safety for Politics
Although the value of this action for the industry is dubious, it remains clear that this policy move definitely sacrifices safety. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been pursuing a sleep apnea rule for nearly 10 years. It says that sleep apnea has been the probable cause of at least 10 serious accidents over the last 17 years. This includes the Bronx train derailment that killed four passengers, injured more than 60 others and caused more than $9 million in property damage.
Other research has shown that truckers with untreated sleep apnea may be 5 times more likely to have an accident than those without sleep apnea–or those who get their sleep apnea treated.
Although some truck drivers will continue to be screened and treated under the old guidelines, it’s uncertain how effective these guidelines are.
However, truckers that are looking for a treatment alternative to CPAP can benefit from an oral appliance.
If you want more information about sleep apnea treatment in Omaha, please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with sleep dentist Dr. Roger Roubal at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.