The DOT has withdrawn a sleep apnea rule meant to establish criteria for instituting sleep apnea screening requirements for truck drivers.

According to a study by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) and the University of Pennsylvania, approximately 28% of commercial drivers in the United States of America suffer from sleep apnea.

If left undiagnosed, sleep apnea can be life threatening. Among other conditions, sleep apnea can cause breathing interruptions of up to 10 seconds. That’s a concern for commercial drivers operating huge vehicles. After all, a negative effect on the reaction time may increase the probability of road accidents.

The sleep apnea proposed rule got the attention of the industry once again when it was withdrawn by the DOT this month because of “logistical and financial concerns”.

It is important to note that the FMCSA worked persistently on the sleep apnea screening rule throughout 2016. Meetings and listening sessions were held around the country. Even so, the agency concluded it couldn’t gather enough data to warrant a rule-making.

If passed, the sleep apnea rule could have led to sleep apnea screening and treatment for drivers. 

In the end, the DOT agreed that current safety and driver fatigue risk management programs are sufficient.

A Federal Register posting adds, “The agencies believe that current safety programs and FRA’s rulemaking address fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address [obstructive sleep apnea].”

Despite some of the logical and financial concerns, industry groups were looking forward to the rule. The National Transportation Safety Board has been recommending sleep apnea screening for truckers for several years. Christopher O’Neil, an NTSB spokesman, said that the agency was “disappointed” with the decision of withdrawing the rule.

The FMCSA said that it would consider updating its existing sleep apnea guidance. The update could include recommendations that two agency advisory committees made last fall.

According to those recommendations, truck operators with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher should be flagged for screening. Additionally, truck operators with a BMI of 33 or higher should be flagged for screening if they meet other criteria.