Lately, it seems as though the trucking industry has been taken for a tumultuous, sharp turning ride. For one, the new HOS regulations really threw our nation’s truckers for a loop- a much more regulated and restricting loop, mind you. Then, we heard about a nationwide truck driver shortage, but truckers have failed to see any of their wages increase. Now, it seems as though the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is looking for yet another way to throw our truckers through the wringer.
You’ve probably heard about it, but unless you sleep next to it- or experience it yourself- it’s not something that concerns you. Sleep apnea is a disorder in which those afflicted have one or more pauses (lasting seconds to minutes) in breathing while they sleep. Sometimes they can experience pauses up to 400 times in one night. Doesn’t sound too fun, right? Well, it gets even worse when you talk about the quality of sleep people with this disease get.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH) people with sleep apnea experience a poor quality of sleep and are often tired during the day.
In fact, the NIH states that sleep apnea is the leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. That’s a big problem, but it’s an even bigger problem if you are a truck driver. As we all know, drowsiness and driving is not a good mix. Perhaps that is why the FMCSA has been thinking about issuing some guidelines for truckers in regards to sleep apnea.
However, if they were thinking about simply issuing a guidance instead of regulation, the FMCSA may have to think again.
House Unanimously Passes Sleep Apnea Bill
Just last Thursday, on September 26, the House passed the commonly dubbed “sleep apnea bill” 405 to 0. The bill states that if the FMCSA plans on taking any actions towards screening or treating truckers for sleep apnea that they develop a regulation rather than a guidance. In order for the FMCSA to put a regulation in place, rather than a guidance, they must have thorough evidence to back up their reasoning so that the regulation in question may be properly evaluated not only by regulators, but by industry stakeholders as well. If they were permitted to issue a guidance such analysis and evidence would not be necessary.
Under regulation status, the FMCSA must provide thorough evidence that sleep apnea is, in fact, obstructive to truck drivers. The House’s decision is fully accepted by both the American Trucking Association (ATA) and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). Bill Graves, the president of ATA, was quoted stating, “We’re thrilled the House unanimously passed this important piece of legislation and we hope the Senate will soon follow suit so we can ensure the issue of sleep apnea testing and treatment is resolved through the regular rulemaking rather than hastily issued guidance.”
Finally it seems as though truckers in the industry have caught somewhat of a break. The ruling of the House is welcomed by the industry, especially with the current mess dealing with the new HOS regulations. In fact, the new HOS regulations have most recently come under scrutiny by the House stating that the FMCSA put new regulations in place without first having a strong study of proof to back the new regulations up. The FMCSA was supposed to submit their findings on the HOS regulations in regards to drowsy driving, but failed to do so. However, they still put their new regulations in motion.
The outcome of that remains to be unseen, but truckers nationwide can rest a bit easier knowing that the House has their back in regards to sleep apnea. It must be known that the bill passed by the House does not require the FMCSA to create a regulation addressing sleep apnea. However, if the FMCSA does decide to take action on sleep apnea, they must now do so under the rulemaking process.
If the FMCSA does plan to pursue a regulation in regards to sleep apnea, there are projected costs of more than $1 billion per year. That includes costs for screening, diagnosing and treating sleep apnea among the 3 million plus truckers working in our country. “Taking a step as potentially costly as that shouldn’t be undertaken lightly and outside of the normal processes,” stated Graves in Fleet Owner.