Still, opponents of apnea regulation argue, while studies address apnea and highway safety, only one focuses on truck drivers, so the link remains questionable. Those critics also contend that as professional drivers, truckers learn to deal responsibly with many routine difficulties, including fatigue.
This issue was discussed at the FMCSA meeting, where the agency’s joint committee of the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and Medical Review Board adopted 10 apnea-related recommendations. They would, among other things, require all drivers with a body mass index of 35 or higher to be tested for sleep apnea.
That step would open up all sorts of costs, bureaucracy, potential abuse and other problems. In light of that impact, yes, it would be preferable to have better data before any significant rulemaking.
At the same time, the lack of data is no reason to completely stonewall the issue. Even if things progress, rulemaking based on the committee’s recommendations would take years, said FMCSA’s Larry Minor at the meeting.
However, he said drivers could expect the interim recommended guidance issued by the joint committee last December to come up for a 30-day comment period this spring. It needs to. Of the 3,675 truck-involved fatalities in 2010, about 500 involved a fatigued trucker, says FMCSA head Anne Ferro. Trucking cannot ignore a health condition whose primary symptom is chronic fatigue.
While it’s easy to focus on the potential problems that accompany invasive regs, there could be significant benefits. Safer highways, presumably, would be the biggest.
Another would be healthier, happier drivers. As Managing Editor Lucinda Coulter reported last month, that was the observation of Anne-Marie Puricelli, a trainer with Concentra Medical Center. She found that many drivers treated for apnea were surprised at the quick results. “Most of them come back to us and thank us for treating them,” she says.
That February FMCSA meeting also dealt with electronic onboard recorders – another safety hot button where many skeptical drivers continue to be pleasantly surprised. Before trying EOBRs, they didn’t want the privacy of their cab invaded, but many now say how much easier their logging became and, in some cases, how the systems freed them from dispatcher abuse.
Years from now it might turn out that EOBRs and apnea screening are two intrusions that never lived up to the bluster.