Will This New Rule Keep Tired Truck Drivers Off the Road?

Sleep apnea is a relatively common condition that disrupts sleep repeatedly, leaving sufferers tired the next day.  With fatigued truckers being a leading cause of fatal trucking accidents, imagine the potential for calamity when truck drivers with sleep apnea are on the road.

The federal government has, and that’s why it proposed a new rule to identify truckers with sleep apnea that may soon become a reality.

Those with sleep apnea experience pauses in breathing that make the quality of their sleep poor.  Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form of the condition, blocks a person’s airway, making breathing difficult and interrupts their deep sleep.  These sleep disruptions – as many as hundreds per night – lead to excessive tiredness the next day.

Sleep Apnea Often Goes Undiagnosed

Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed.  Since it occurs when a person is sleeping, he or she may only be aware of the interruptions if someone else alerts them.  It is a chronic condition and more typically occurs in overweight individuals.

It’s been estimated that one out of five people in the United States has at least a mild form of sleep apnea.  Given the profession’s sedentary working conditions that lead to heightened chances for obesity, sleep apnea may be even more prevalent among the nation’s truck drivers.  A 2002 study asserted that 10.5 percent of truck drivers on the road suffer moderate to severe sleep apnea.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration earlier this year proposed a new rule that would require truck drivers likely to have the condition undergo screening for sleep apnea. Those found to have the condition would have to get treatment.  Currently, no such screening is mandatory.

Truck Drivers Targeted for Sleep Apnea Testing

Recently the FMCSA’s Medical Review Board made recommendations as to which truck drivers should be tested for sleep apnea under this new rule.  Those recommendations include:

  • Truck drivers with a body mass index above 40, or
  • Truck drivers with a BMI of at least 34 and also meet one other criteria, including older than 42; neck size of 17 inches for men and 15.5 inches for women; history of heart disease; high blood pressure or diabetes; snores loudly

The review board also recommended that drivers found to have sleep apnea but are being adequately treated by a certified sleep expert be allowed to work.  The pertinent definitions of treatment are vague and left up to the healthcare provider.

This is not the first step by the FMCSA to get tired truckers off the road.  The agency previously adopted revised Hours of Service Rules, which limit the number of hours truckers can spend behind the wheel during a week.  Facing strong opposition by the trucking industry, Congress ordered those rules suspended until further investigations were conducted.

Determining all responsible parties, including fatigued truck drivers, for a catastrophic trucking accident can be challenging, as trucking companies may not be cooperative.   If you had a family member die or you were seriously injured in a crash involving a commercial truck, an attorney who represents victims of trucking accidents can investigate and pursue justice on your behalf.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.