On August 8, 2017, CBS News reported that officials regulating the trucking industry—the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)—abandoned seeking a regulation requiring trucker screening for sleep apnea.
Safety experts decried the move, stating it puts millions at risk.
Dismissal is part of the war President Trump is waging against regulations, with the intention of creating economic growth. I’m all for economic growth—but not at the expense of safety. Here’s the reason regulators proposed testing—and the danger not having it imposes on innocent motorists and their families.
The Frightening Threat Posed by Truckers With Sleep Apnea
According to the FMCSA, which commissioned a 2002 study by University of Pennsylvania researchers, sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where breathing stops for 10 seconds or more up to 400 times a night. Yes, you read that right: four hundred times a night. And each of those little breaks from breathing means a disturbance in restful sleep.
The FMCSA states symptoms most affecting truckers on the road include excessive daytime sleepiness plus concentration problems. Sleep apnea damages the ability to drive safely because it makes it hard to stay awake, focus the mind and the eyes, and react quickly. Studies show drivers with untreated sleep apnea have an increased risk of fatigue-related wrecks.
As we’ve reported before, both state and federal regulators have long known about and preached against the dangers of truckers driving drowsy or fatigued. The issue moved to the forefront of public awareness in 2014, when comedian Tracy Morgan got seriously hurt by an admittedly exhausted trucker.
Here’s the truly stunning fact from the 2002 FMCSA sleep apnea study: almost one-third of commercial truck drivers suffer from it. Think about whether they should be tested for it next time you see a big rig bearing down on you on the interstate.
The Impact of Not Requiring Sleep Apnea Testing
Basically, the lack of regulation means a trucking company gets off scot-free when its driver is inattentive or even asleep due to apnea. Regulators can’t cite the company for allowing its driver to get behind the wheel with untreated sleep apnea. So trucking companies can look the other way on this dangerous medical condition that threatens innocent motorists.
Think about that. While regulators can assess penalties for other violations, there’s just not going to be one for employing a driver who poses a risk to the innocent motoring public for being asleep at the wheel. While he drives an 80,000 pound, 18-wheel mammoth at interstate speeds.
A former administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration, which sought a similar regulation for train engineers, stated it best: “We cannot have someone who is in that condition operating either a train going 70 mph or operating a multi-ton truck traveling down the interstate. It’s just not an appropriate level of risk to be exposing passengers and the traveling public to.”
In defense of the decision to drop the regulation, officials say it should be up to trucking companies to decide whether to test employees.
It’s okay to chuckle.
What You Can Do
If you’re hurt by a dazed or dozing tractor-trailer truck driver, you can still hold him accountable through the civil justice system. It may be the only way the trucker and the trucking company are held accountable for putting your safety in the backseat.