Inside the divide between docs and Congress, truckers over sleep apnea

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Updated Jun 11, 2021

When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Medical Review Board met May 20 in part to take up a revised sleep-apnea-related section of the FMCSA’s official handbook for the fine folks that perform DOT physicals all around the country, the board doctors made a discovery: The handbook 's drafters had made pains in that section to remove a detailed set of screening, testing and treatment recommendations.

The board had originally come up with those in 2016, when FMCSA was considering pursuing rulemaking around the condition. Those recommendations were then in a draft update to the official medical examiners’ handbook that came to light about a year ago. It wasn't officially published because the agency was still finalizing an update with the board in an advisory capacity.

Handbook drafters as of the May 20 meeting had cut that and added language making it abundantly clear that there was no regulation that required sleep apnea driver screening, referrals for testing or treatment. Board member Michael Kelly worried over that addition in particular, and was joined by the entire board in protest over the lack of specifics.   

As Truckers for a Cause sleep apnea support group cofounder, and longtime driver Bob Stanton put it recently, commenting in the Overdrive's Trucking Pro group at Linkedin, though, “the Medical Review Board seems to have forgotten what Congress mandated through Public Law 113-45.”

Namely, that FMCSA must go through public notice and comment rulemaking in order to issue any further guidance on the condition when it comes to required or recommended screening, testing and treatment guidelines for CDL holders. Dr. Kelley expressed disappointment over what he predicted would be the reality if this handbook draft was made final. As was quoted in my report, Kelley believed "it will be very rare for drivers here on out to be tested and treated for sleep apnea unless they truly want to be."

To some truckers who read that, his expression of disappointment came across quite differently than how he intended it. 

As one owner-operator commenting at Overdrive’s Facebook page put it, testing only if a driver wants it is "exactly as it should be." In today's Overdrive Radio podcast, a window on the MRB proceedings and more on apnea, and a check-in with a new independent dispatching service from S2 Transport that's taking an expansive approach to owner-operator-client support. Take a listen: 

S2 Ram 4500 custom sleeperThe new dispatch service, S2 Logistics, is a project of hotshot hauler S2 Transport, covered last year at this link as part of a series on hotshot trucking. This rig is their newest, a Ram 4500 outfitted with a custom sleeper you'll hear more about later, so stay tuned to Overdrive's Custom Rigs section.

Three years ago, the last time prior to this spring when Overdrive conducted a large-scale compensation survey, just 16 percent of independent owner-operators with authority were using an independent dispatcher for load arrangement services. Since then, and particularly in the last year, many new owner-operator businesses with authority have jumped into the spot market fray, where the watchword might well be turmoil. That started with the late 2017 enforcement of the ELD mandate and hasn't let up with the pandemic and other forces roiling the market.

With our recent survey (results below), one in five independents now employ a dispatch provider.

Connect with S2 Logistics via its business page at LinkedIn, and hear plenty detail about the business' conception and execution via the podcast. 

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