Democratic members of Congress recently introduced bills that, if passed, would require federal transportation officials to mandate tests for obstructive sleep apnea in commercial truck drivers and railroad operators.
The bills aim to reverse a decision by Donald Trump’s administration that killed final rulemaking for sleep apnea testing that would require commercial truck drivers and railroad operators to receive treatment if diagnosed with the disorder, which has been linked to daytime drowsiness and fatigue, one of the leading causes of commercial truck accidents.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-NJ and Rep. Albio Sires, D-NJ, introduced a bill in the House last week that would “require the Secretary of Transportation to publish a final rule to provide for the screening, testing, and treatment for sleep disorders of individuals operating commercial vehicles.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, introduced a similar bill to the Senate that would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to pass a sleep apnea testing mandate. Sen. Booker’s bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-NJ; Chuck Schumer, D-NY; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY.
President Obama’s Transportation Department proposed a rule in March 2016 that would have expanded sleep apnea testing and treatment for operators of commercial trucks and trains. The Trump administration officially killed that rule in August as part of a sweeping deregulation effort, saying regulators did not have enough information available “to support moving forward with a rulemaking action, and so the rulemaking will be withdrawn.”
Any bill seeking further regulation, no matter how thoroughly researched and supported by facts, faces a steep uphill battle in today’s Congress and administration. Still, the proposed bills could get little boost from the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) report last week finding the engineer in last’s year’s deadly Metro New Jersey Transit train crash in Hoboken suffered from obstructive sleep apnea but was not tested for it in his physical exam a couple months before the crash.
NTSB investigators also found the operator of an MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train that crashed Jan. 4 at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, New York, was also diagnosed with sleep apnea after the incident occurred.
The NTSB has not determined whether sleep apnea played a role in the rail incidents, but it calls attention to a potentially deadly and pervasive problem.
“Reducing fatigue-related accidents is at the top of the National Transportation Safety Board’s most-wanted list of transportation safety improvements, and we now know that fatigue may have been a contributing factor in catastrophic rail accidents in Hoboken and Brooklyn,” Rep. Pascrell said in a news release.