Sleep apnea issue not going away soon

Over the past decade an unprecedented number of regulations targeted at the motorcoach industry. Immediately after taking office, President Trump prioritized regulatory relief and began withdrawing several pending regulations that would have been burdensome to the motorcoach industry with little impact on safety.

One of these was a regulatory proposal issued in March of 2016 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration. That regulation proposed creation of very prescriptive requirements for screening, testing and treatment of  obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and other sleep disorders for commercial motor vehicle drivers and railroad engineers and workers. Sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder characterized by a reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep potentially resulting in a lack of restorative sleep.

The previous administration deliberately linked its OSA proposal to include truck, bus and rail together because there have been some high profile railroad accidents where undiagnosed sleep apnea was determined to be a causal factor. However, there is little corresponding data on the commercial motor vehicle side.

While UMA believes OSA and sleep disorders are an important issue to address to ensure health of motorcoach drivers and thus the safety of motorcoach passengers, UMA has steadily asserted throughout the debate that these conditions are adequately covered under the current DOT medical requirements.

UMA members advise they are increasingly seeing their drivers screened for sleep apnea and in many instances selected for additional sleep testing and treatment.

What we’ve done

Immediately after the 2016 election, UMA began advocating with President Trump’s DOT transition team and DOT Secretary Elaine Chao to urge withdrawal of this rulemaking proposal.  UMA also helped craft a legislative proposal introduced by Congressman Perry (R-PA) in April of 2017, “Buses United for Safety, Regulatory Reform, and Enhanced Growth for the 21st Century” (BUSREGS-21), HR 2120.  This bill includes a provision exempting commercial motor vehicle drivers of motor carriers of passengers and private school bus carriers from any requirements resulting from the rulemaking proposal.  Fortunately, on August 4, 2017, FMCSA and FRA withdrew the ANPRM, stating, “The Agencies believe that current safety programs and FRA’s rulemaking addressing fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address OSA.”  This was a great victory for the motorcoach industry.

However, the fight is not over. Identical legislation is pending in the House and Senate to direct FMCSA and FRA to complete the rule making process on OSA and finalize a rule within one year.  (S. 1883 introduced by Senator Booker (D-NJ) and HR 3882 introduced by Congressman Pascrell (D-NJ).  These bills were responses to rail accidents in New Jersey involving engineers with undiagnosed sleep apnea.

Bottom line

UMA places the regulatory and legislative issue of OSA under “Caution.” Advocates continue to push Federal legislators and regulators to pass laws outlining unnecessarily prescriptive criteria for screening, testing and treatment of OSA and other sleep disorders, so the issue is not likely to go away.  UMA will continue to advocate that the condition is adequately addressed in current DOT medical requirements.—Ken Presley and Becky Weber

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