Feds: No Sleep Apnea Testing for Truckers and Train Engineers

Regulators Abandon New Sleep Apnea Rules for Truckers and Railroad Engineers


On August 4, 2017, federal regulators in cooperation with the Trump administration scrapped a proposed regulatory plan which would have required all truckers & railroad engineers to be tested for sleep apnea, a fatigue-inducing disorder that has been blamed for many deadly rail and road collisions in NY and NJ, according to Bloomberg News.

Truckers-and-Sleep-Apnea image

image reposted with permission from TrueNorth Insurance and Financial Strategies”


The Background

In recent years, a number of studies have revealed that a number of mass transit accidents occurred as a result of sleep deprivation stemming from sleep apnea.  Because of this, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) branch of the Department of Transportation has been considering updating its existing sleep apnea guidelines.  The update could include recommendations for screenings based on Body-Mass Index (BMI,) which is has been connected closely to the occurrence of sleep apnea.  Truckers, for example, with a BMI of 40 or higher would require sleep apnea screening by law if the new regulations were integrated.

The National Transportation Safety Board has long suggested sleep apnea testing for railroad engineers, though the move to suggest such testing for truckers is somewhat more recent.  Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road both integrated sleep apnea testing after the engineer of the 2013 Spuyten Duyvil crash was discovered to have fallen asleep at the controls because of a severe, undiagnosed case of sleep apnea­. (Source)


Scrapping of the Plan

The latest announcement from the federal transportation experts, however, indicates that a decision has been made to abandon plans made based off of FMCSA committee recommendations on sleep apnea.  The federal government will no longer pursue this regulation, choosing instead to address sleep fatigue by other means.  As reported by Bloomberg:

“’The agencies have determined not to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking at this time and believe that current safety programs’ and other rules ‘addressing fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address’ the issue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration said in a statement.” (Source)

The agencies set in place by the Trump administration are now arguing that it should be up to railroads and trucking companies to make final decisions on whether or not to test employees for sleep apnea.

The administration’s decision was criticized by New York Senator Chuck Schumer on Tuesday, and, additionally, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Spokesman Shams Tarek stated that, regardless of the federal decision, it “does absolutely nothing to change the MTA’s commitment to sleep apnea screening and testing.”  Tarek also stated that “safety is the top priority at the MTA, and regardless of any federal requirements, we’re performing sleep apnea screening across all of our agencies, covering nearly 20,000 employees.”


The Takeaway

The announcement from the federal government regarding sleep apnea screenings gives us an opportunity to directly and soberly discuss the dangers and loss of quality of life due to sleep loss, regardless of its root cause.  Whether caused by poor sleep hygiene, sleep apnea, wakeups due to acid reflux, or simply staying up too late, fatigue caused by sleep loss can be deadly.

Sleep apnea is a bigger problem than most people realize!  Approximately 22 million American suffer from sleep apnea, with 80 percent of the moderate-to-severe type cases going completely undiagnosed. (Source)

The University of Pennsylvania, in studies sponsored by the FMCSA and the American Transportation Research Institute, discovered that close to 28 percent of commercial truck drivers suffer from mild to severe sleep apnea.  Additionally, Metro-North Railroad found that 11.6 percent of its engineers were suffering from sleep apnea!  These reports are shocking when considering the possible negative outcomes!

Some additional reading for those who would like to know more about sleep apnea can be found here: Sleep Apnea Statistics and Facts 2016 !


How Can a Lack of Sleep Become Deadly?

Most Americans are used to driving cars, and not operating buses, trains, or trucks.  Sleep and mental awareness are important in jobs that require the use of heavy, dangerous machinery, such as assembly lines, construction, and more, so why wouldn’t sleep be important when operating large vehicles?  Much like when working with heavy machinery, sometimes all it can take is a single short moment of absent-mindedness for a terrible accident to occur.

For those who might doubt the seriousness of vehicular accidents caused by sleep deprivation, here are a few examples of major accidents that left the victims’ lives and families permanently affected:

  1. The LIRR train crash in Brooklyn, NY on January 4, 2017
  2. The New Jersey Transit Train accident in Hoboken, which resulted in the death of a woman and the injury of 114 people.
  3. The Metro-North Crash in the Bronx on December 1, 2013, in which the engineer was found to have “severe obstructive sleep apnea.”
  4. The Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill of March 24, 1989

Sleep loss and sleep apnea, as you can certainly see, have been tied to a number of major incidents that had severe repercussions.


Considering Quality of Life

Injuries as a result of an accident can severely affect the quality of life of the victims of a crash.  While it is well understood by most everyone that injuries do happen from accidents, not many people are given the opportunity to see exactly how those injuries affect the daily lives of those who sustain them.  Comedian Tracey Morgan’s vehicle was struck by a truck in June of 2014, which resulted in the death of his friend James McNair (aka Uncle Jimmy Mack) and the loss of his leg.  Reading any of Morgan’s personal testimony, for example, is heartbreaking.  Posted video clips reveal that Morgan had to relearn how to walk following his injuries, and was absolutely devastated by the loss of his friend.

Everyone desires to get up in the morning full of energy and ready for life.  We know when we’re not feeling our best.  This is why doctors ask us what we’re feeling, not the other way around.  Most of the time, we know why we’re groggy in the morning.  Maybe a late night of work kept us up, or maybe we were excitedly watching a sporting event that ran late into the night.  Sometimes, though, fatigue isn’t always clear.  One of the causes that can go unnoticed is sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea often goes unnoticed because it rarely fully wakes the sufferer, simply causing them to struggle to breathe throughout the night resulting in chronic poor sleep.  A sleep study from your doctor might help identify this.

Whether you are suffering from sleep apnea or not, there are a few steps you can take to improve your quality of life.  Maintain a regular sleep schedule, and if you do get interrupted, don’t be afraid to take a quick power nap!

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Are the Regulations Necessary?

This question is a tough one to answer, and is much to subject to personal viewpoint and philosophy for us to answer here.  However, we will stress the importance of the actions that can be taken to ensure good sleep and healthy sleep habits.  While some of these boil down to “common sense” advice, like not deliberately staying up late, avoiding caffeine before bed, and sleeping in a comfortable location, other actions might not be so simple.  If you are having regular sleep issues or are feeling fatigued frequently, be careful and talk to your doctor.  Thankfully, regardless of regulation, we can still take personal precaution for our own safety and the safety of those around us.


What do you think about sleep apnea screening?  Should it be regulated?

Please share your thoughts below!

Also see Driving Sleepy Is Almost As Dangerous As Drunk Driving



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