Overdrive Staff | January 01, 2012

Apnea proposals could disqualify drivers

Sleep apnea screening would be linked with body mass index under a proposal supported by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration panels.

A proposal recommend medical examiners refer to testing for obstructive sleep apnea any trucker with a body mass index of 35 or higher.

According to guidance supported by FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and Medical Review Board, medical examiners would refer for evaluation for obstructive sleep apnea any interstate commercial driver with a BMI of 35 or higher (a 6-foot, 258-pound driver has a BMI of 35).

The guidance comes on the heels of three separate sets of recommendations the agency has received in recent years with varying screening specifications, typically involving a BMI measurement between 30 and 35 and other criteria, including risk factors.

A second guidance would immediately disqualify drivers meeting any of five criteria:

• Having reported excessive daytime sleepiness.

• Having had an accident associated with falling asleep.

• Exhibiting apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) scores of 20 or greater, until they’ve had effective treatment.

• Having had surgery to correct apnea and awaiting post-operative evaluation.

• Individuals who have been found to be effectively noncompliant with their treatment.

Both short-term guidances are intended as stop-gaps until further new rulemaking officially codifies sleep disorders into the regulations, with a draft to emerge from a MCSAC and MRB joint subcommittee as early as February.

Medical experts began making a case for the correlation between drivers with moderate to severe sleep apnea and increased crash risk during a Dec. 7 FMCSA meeting.

Todd Spencer, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association executive vice president, noting the statistics on risk factors for apnea among commercial drivers, asked, “If these staggering numbers have some real live applications, why don’t highways all over America look like war zones today?”

Charles A. Czeisler, director of Harvard Medical’s Division of Sleep Medicine, argued that “it is actually a war zone out there.” He said 20 percent of all crashes (not just truck-related) are related to drowsy driving, and that two million drivers a week in the U.S. nod off at the wheel. With fatalities related to drowsy driving occurring once every 70 minutes on average, “that’s equivalent to two 9/11 events every year,” he said.

The proposed guidance would be, ultimately, put up for public comment, said FMCSA’s Larry Minor.

— Todd Dills


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