The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently got in trouble for trying to expand sleep apnea testing requirements for truck drivers. Although the agency was largely following its standard operating procedure of updating guidance rather than making a formal rule, the guidance changes were perceived as unduly harsh by the trucking industry and its lobbyists, who then took their concerns to congress. In a rare act of legislative competence our do-nothing Congress passed a bill forcing the FMCSA to go through the formal rule-making procedure to institute new standards.
However, even when not in effect, critics claim the guidelines are still being used to force more drivers to get sleep apnea testing.
An Apology and Clarification from the FMCSA
Two congressmen, Representative Larry Bucshon and Representative Daniel Lipinski wrote to the FMCSA complaining that organizations providing sleep apnea training to medical examiners were using the medical guidance as guidance rather than waiting for the final rule.
The congressmen said in their letter that the training organizations should not tell medical examiners to follow any specific steps with respect to sleep apnea testing requirements, since there “technically aren’t any in the absence of a rulemaking.”
The FMCSA responded by saying that it “neither reviews nor approves training materials or programs” used for medical examiners, and that there is nothing in the rules that prevents trainers from giving examiners more information about sleep apnea than is contained in the current guidelines, issued October 5, 2000. It also notes that it will communicate with medical examiners and their trainers to make distinctions between recommendations based on the rules and those based on the examiner’s professional judgment.
A Serious Issue
Unfortunately, the restriction that a formal rule needs to be made will likely delay the testing of many large truck drivers. With large truck accidents largely caused by driver factors like fatigue, and a large truck is about four times more likely than a passenger car to be involved in a fatal accident. Since most people killed in accidents with large trucks are someone other than the truck driver, this means that truckers with sleep apnea represent a serious risk to other drivers and their families on the road. And with increasing numbers of truckers dying in fatal accidents, too, it is in the best interest of truckers and their families to get sleep apnea treated.
If you suspect you have sleep apnea, it can put you at an increased risk for a car accident. Treatment can help. To reduce your sleep apnea-related risks, please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.