A proposed rule addressing the deadly risk of obstructive sleep apnea for commercial drivers and other transportation workers has been struck down by two federal agencies.
According to a Federal Register posting, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) are abandoning regulatory efforts to reduce the number of drowsy-driver related crashes by requiring testing and treatment of sleep apnea.
The proposed rule becomes the latest safety regulation to be thrown on the chopping block by the Trump Administration, alarming safety experts who have demonstrated through years of research how serious safety deficiencies in current regulations can be corrected to spare scores of people from injury and death.
“The agencies believe that current safety programs and FRA’s rulemaking addressing fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address [obstructive sleep apnea],” the Federal Register posting states.
Federal health authorities estimate that 22 million men and women could be suffering from undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea, a respiratory disorder characterized by the reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep.
Undiagnosed and inadequately treated sleep apnea 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 sleep apnea. The size and scope of the problem mean that sleep apnea presents a major safety issue across the entire transportation industry.
According to the FMCSA, nearly a third of all commercial truck drivers suffer from mild to severe sleep apnea. In fact, information still on the FMCSA’s website seems to contradict the agency’s move to shelve the sleep apnea bill:
“Studies show that people with untreated sleep apnea have an increased risk of being involved in a fatigue-related motor vehicle crash,” the FMCSA says.
The FMCSA proposed a sleep apnea testing requirement after a Metro-North commuter train jumped the tracks in Spuyten Duyvil, New York in December 2013. Four people were killed when the train derailed while traveling 82 mph on a 30 mph bend. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators found that the engineer, William Rockefeller, had undiagnosed sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea may have also played a role in a September 2016 New Jersey Transit commuter train crash in Hoboken. The train rolled into the station at more than twice the limit, jumped the tracks, and plowed into the station, killing one person.
NTSB spokesman Christopher O’Neil told Bloomberg that the agency is “disappointed” in the Trump administration’s decision to freeze the “much needed” development of new rules addressing the sleep apnea problem in transportation.