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Mandated obstructed sleep apnea screening proposed for professional drivers

In and around Bloomington, you jockey for space with them: semis, box trucks and other large commercial vehicles. In summer months, sharing the road with the professionals driving big rigs takes much concentration due to truck drivers' limited visual field and increased braking time. Adding to these factors, the Indiana winter months can make a road excursion a white-knuckle experience. During this time of year, the reduced daylight hours and poor weather conditions intensify the hazards all drivers face.

In some cases, these risks can be reduced by slowing down and avoiding travel when the roads become too slick with sleet, snow or ice. For professional drivers, however, reducing travel may not be an option. Those whose pay relies on logged miles hit the road regardless of the season or level of fatigue. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is aware of the tension that exists between maintaining road safety and registering mileage. If you have read our blog, you know that federal regulations have mandated electronic logs be maintained to reduce the chances truck drivers will pilot their rigs beyond the hours allotted. 

Another safety proposal is on the horizon. In June, the DOT's Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) presented a plan to require professional truck drivers, train conductors and bus drivers to be screened for obstructed sleep apnea. Those drivers receiving a diagnosis of the sleep disorder could be required to undergo treatment for the condition.

In a speech delivered at the Sleep Apnea and Trucking Conference, FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro referenced the agency's findings that "almost three out of 10 truck drivers currently suffer from mild to severe sleep apnea," adding "that drivers with severe sleep apnea are known to be at a much, much greater risk of being involved in a severe crash." New regulations would restrict drivers suffering from sleep apnea from getting behind the wheel due to the negative impact the condition has on reaction time and alertness.

While some truck drivers worry this new regulation would push the cost of testing onto the drivers and restrict driving time, proponents of the regulation say that those in cars would experience safer highways. Until the law is passed, however, professional drivers voluntarily report their condition.

Look for our future post on the hazards associated with sleep apnea and drowsy drivers.

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