FMCSA and Sleep Apnea

January 28, 2011
We're staying with the sleep issue for two days on the run here - yesterday we dealt with the FMCSA's proposed HOS rule changes and the listening session coming up on February 17th in Arlington, Virginia. Today, we'll deal with a lesser known, but troubling issue of the FMCSA's sleep apnea study. Sleep apnea is the condition where someone has breathing issues during sleep. During sleep your body relaxes and this affects the throat too - as the muscle and tissue structures around your throat also relaxe, the airway may become blocked or partially obstructed. In extreme instances, breathing may stop for several minutes and even in mild cases, the condition causes restless sleep. In other words, sleep apnea is directly correlated to daytime driver fatigue - so the FMCSA appears to be getting ready to say. For an industry which has had to deal with a great deal of back room lobbying from vested interests looking to sell trucking "safety" products - sleep apnea could be the "next big thing" facing drivers and operators over the horizon. At the moment, having a sleep test conducted is not a requirement for a CDL license, but it is not a far stretch to see how easy that could be imposed (especially given the FMCSA's fixation on driver fatigue as the primary road safety issue facing the trucking industry). The current broohaha is focused on comments by FMCSA chief, Anna Ferro who claims that 30% of truckers are suffering some form of sleep apnea. Her basis for saying this is a sleep apnea study conducted by the Center for Sleep & Respiratory Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania. A major issue with the study is the veracity of the results - the FMCSA appears to be throwing a 30% figure around as set in stone, but there is conflicting information. AsktheTrucker.com covered this in detail, including broadcasting on their radio blog, (just follow the link). The results from their research indicate around half the number of truckers are sleep apnea sufferers, including mild, moderate and severe cases and NOT the 30% so widely (and irresponsibly?) touted by the FMCSA. Unfortunately, we live in a time when highly paid lobbyists really can convince legislators and bureaucrats that black is white simply by waving the banner of public safety. What gets lost in translation is just what is really responsible for road accidents involving truckers - for instance, in 2002 the Automobile Association of America conducted an accident study which showed that car drivers were responsible for 75% of accidents involving trucks. Who is Going to Pick up the Cost? Sleep apnea requires a sleep test and the cost will vary somewhere in the $2-3,000 range. That is not cheap. If FMCSA gos down this road who is going to foot the bill? With the trucking industry looking to add 200,000 new truckers to the industry this year alone, that's $200-$300 million in testing alone right there, and that's before we get to the cost of any treatment. For some truckers, they will be covered by their insurance carrier for this kind of testing and treatment, for others, the carriers are going to pick up the tab, but for the bulk of the truck driving population they should start putting some money away for this sleep apnea testor think about putting their truck for sale!
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