Mandated sleep apnea screenings may be on the horizon for truck drivers.

If you have been following our blog, you are aware that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently revealed the results from their 2016 "Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts" report. The agency provided both positive and negative statistics of truck accidents that occurred in 2014. Although the report noted that there was a 6 percent drop in fatalities resulting from large truck accidents, it also acknowledged a rise in the injuries suffered in the large truck accidents. Both aspects of the report show that big truck safety has improved, but there are still changes that can be made to ensure driver safety from fatalities and injuries.

A change in federal law may provide a tool to boost road safety for those sharing the road with truck drivers. In June 2016, three government agencies presented a plan that would require all commercial truck drivers, railroad laborers and bus drivers to be screened for sleep apnea. The Department of Transportation (DOT), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the FMCSA revealed the plan in order to solicit comments from the public before moving forward.

A study sponsored by the FMCSA revealed that 28 percent of commercial truck drivers suffered from mild to severe sleep apnea. Those who have this condition report sluggishness and fatigue due to a pattern of interrupted sleep that apnea patients experience nightly. This sleep disorder causes the afflicted to stop breathing for short periods intermittently. Although periods may span only ten seconds, such cessations can number 400 times over the course of the night. As disruptive as the breaks in sleep may be, they are so slight that those with apnea have no recollection of them occurring. It is for this reason that those with apnea can feel exhausted even though they were in bed for eight hours or more. In many cases, it isn't until the afflicted visit a sleep specialist that they realize they suffer from the disorder.

This poor quality of sleep obviously influences alertness and cognitive functions. For those getting behind the wheel, this type of impairment has implications for road safety. Many sleep studies have drawn connections between apnea and a reduced reaction time. In a study discussed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, "the rate of serious, preventable crashes was 5 times higher among truck drivers with sleep apnea" who failed to treat their condition when compared with drivers without the condition. Those with the disorder who followed treatment procedures for apnea were not involved in a higher rate of accidents.

It is for this reason that the three agencies are proposing this new rule. While no legislation has passed mandating the screening, we will provide an update when new information is revealed.

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