Truck Drivers Suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Fatigue are a Clear Threat to Themselves and Other Road Users
Dropping Rules to Screen and Assist Drivers with OSA Puts Lives at Risk
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is threatening the safety of all motorists by abandoning plans to require screening and treatment for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). FMCSA’s plan to withdraw an important safety rulemaking which is already underway ignores the advice of medical experts, fellow federal regulators and even the agency’s own advisory committees. The move comes at a time when the number of truck crashes, fatalities and injuries continues to skyrocket.
Fatigue is a well-known and well-documented safety problem. Large truck and motorcoach drivers frequently work long shifts with irregular schedules, often without adequate sleep. Compelling and consistent research from groups like the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has shown that OSA-afflicted drivers who are not properly treated are more prone to fatigue and have a higher crash rate than the general driver population. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also considers OSA to be a disqualifying condition unless properly treated. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is so concerned about fatigue-involved crashes that the Board included fatigue on both its 2016 and 2017/2018 Most Wanted List of safety changes because fatigue has been cited as a major contributor to truck crashes.
Ignoring the threat of fatigued truck drivers is particularly dangerous at a time when annual truck crash fatalities are comparable to a major airplane crash every other week of the year. In 2015, crashes involving large trucks led to the deaths of 4,067 people and left 116,000 more injured. Moreover, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), fatalities in large truck crashes have increased by 20 percent since 2009 and large truck crash injuries have increased by 57 percent over the same time period.
It is especially disappointing that FMCSA is failing to heed the warning of its own advisory committees regarding OSA screenings. In 2012, the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC) and its Medical Review Board found that drivers with a body mass index of 35 or greater are more likely to suffer from OSA and recommended that they undergo an objective evaluation for the condition.
FMCSA’s move to kill this vital rule threatens the safety of truck drivers and the public at large. Basic safety protections are critical not only to help identify CMV drivers with OSA and get them the treatment they need, but also to provide clear rules to the industry, drivers and medical professionals on how best to deal with this significant safety risk.
Henry Jasny, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and a MCSAC member, said, “In abandoning its effort to screen professional commercial drivers for the serious medical condition of obstructive sleep apnea, the FMCSA fails to protect public safety on our highways from those who drive while fatigued due to this condition. The agency also shows a callous disregard for the health and well-being of drivers who suffer from OSA. This is yet another example of the FMCSA throwing its mission, to make safety its highest priority, under the bus.”
“Today, FMCSA showed, once again, a lack of commitment to improving commercial motor carrier safety at a time when truck crashes, injuries, and fatalities continue to surge,” said John Lannen, Executive Director of the Truck Safety Coalition and member of the MCSAC. “The agency’s misguided move also demonstrates a refusal to listen to the advice of advisory boards with experts on this issue – the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and the Medical Review Board. The withdrawal of this lifesaving rule that would establish requirements for sleep apnea screening is baffling given the agency is charged with improving motor carrier safety and, according to one of the largest sleep apnea studies, up to 50 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers are at risk this health problem.”
Jane Mathis, a board member of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) who also serves on the MCSAC, stated, “Sleep apnea is a scientifically proven sleep disorder that causes a brief interruption of breathing during sleep. People with sleep apnea are at risk of becoming fatigued as their body and brain are deprived of oxygen and the restorative effects of sleep. Policymakers at the FMCSA should be doing more to prevent truck crashes, which have skyrocketed 45 percent since 2009, including preventing truckers with OSA from getting behind the wheel and driving tired because of their sleep disorder. My son David and his wife of five days Mary Kathryn were driving home from their honeymoon when they were rear-ended and killed by a truck driver who had fallen asleep behind the wheel. Withdrawing this rulemaking is a step in the wrong direction for the safety of all motorists.”
Steve Owings, Co-Founder of Road Safe America and a MCSAC member, stated, “As the father of a young man who was killed in a truck crash, I know how dangerous large trucks can be and how critically important safety protections are. Drivers suffering from OSA are at risk from the effects of fatigue which pose a real danger to all those who share the road with large trucks. I am disheartened and dismayed that the FMCSA is ignoring the advice of its own advisory panels and other experts by withdrawing plans to require OSA screenings for commercial truck drivers. In fact, a survey prepared for the FMCSA found that almost two-thirds of drivers often or sometimes felt drowsy while driving and almost half had said they had fallen asleep while driving the previous year. Instead of taking action to remedy this problem, today’s action fails the motoring public.”