Federal safety regulators said they have taken the first step in developing new rules for the screening and treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in commercial drivers and rail workers, following recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The U.S. Department of Transportation said that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have jointly released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to address the problem of obstructive sleep apnea. The call for public comments – a preliminary measure that seeks the public’s input on the issue before new rules are proposed – will last 90 days.
Federal health authorities estimate that 22 million men and women could be suffering from undiagnosed OSA, a respiratory disorder characterized by the reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep.
Undiagnosed and inadequately treated OSA can cause a person to fall asleep unexpectedly. The disorder can also cause deficits in attention, concentration, situational awareness, memory, and the capacity to safely respond to hazards when driving or performing other safety-sensitive activities.
According to a study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, eight hours of sleep can be less refreshing than four hours of ordinary, uninterrupted sleep for people with OSA. The size and scope of the problem means that OSA presents a major safety issue across the entire transportation industry.
“It is imperative for everyone’s safety that commercial motor vehicle drivers and train operators be fully focused and immediately responsive at all times,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “DOT strongly encourages comment from the public on how to best respond to this national health and transportation safety issue.”
FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling and FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg echoed Secretary Foxx’s remarks, adding that the economic impacts of any proposed OSA rules would be considered.
In addition to calling for public comment online, the FMCSA and FRA will host three public listening sessions to gather input in Washington DC, Chicago, and Los Angeles.