Should Sleep Apnea Tests be Required for Truck Drivers and Train Engineers?
Should Sleep Apnea Tests be Required for Truck Drivers and Train Engineers?

Federal agencies were pursuing plans for sleep apnea screening for truck drivers and train engineers—but not anymore. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have decided that it should be up to the railroads and trucking companies to decide whether to test their employees.

Last year, the FRA issued a safety advisory urging railroads to begin testing their engineers for sleep apnea. The advisory was meant as an interim measure while the regulations went through the approval process in Congress. However, the regulations are no longer on the table at the federal level. The decision is part of the Trump administration’s effort to reduce regulations across the board. Railroads and private trucking companies will have to decide whether or not to test for the condition and require treatment.

One railroad that currently does its own sleep apnea testing, Metro-North in New York, reported that 11.6% of its engineers tested positive for the condition. The railroad began requiring testing after they learned the engineer who caused a crash in 2013 had fallen asleep due to a severe case of sleep apnea. Four people were killed in that train crash.

New Jersey Transit also changed their policy on the condition after one of their engineers caused a fatal crash last September. The engineer was diagnosed with sleep apnea a month after the crash occurred. Under the railroad’s new policy, engineers diagnosed with the condition must prove they are receiving treatment and have their symptoms under control.

NTSB Concerned over Decision to Scrap Regulations

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says obstructive sleep apnea has been pinpointed as the probable cause for 10 highway and rail accidents the agency has investigated in the past 17 years. Additionally, the disorder is being looked at as a cause of several ongoing investigations. The NTSB has been a proponent for sleep apnea testing for train engineers for years, and representatives have expressed disappointment at the decision to move away from federal regulations.

In response to the issue, Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he will push the agencies to reconsider. The senator believes that not pursuing the regulations will risk lives. The former administrator of the FRA, Sarah Feinberg, agrees that people are being put at risk. Feinberg says that exposing passengers and the traveling public to drivers and engineers with this untreated condition is “not an appropriate level of risk.” Feinberg issued the safety advisory for railroads last December.

big rig crash

Why is Sleep Apnea Dangerous for Truck Drivers?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes a person’s breathing to be interrupted during sleep. Sleep apnea sufferers stop breathing during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times in the night. Consequently, the brain does not get enough oxygen.

A common effect of sleep apnea is waking up feeling tired, even though you had a full night of sleep. The fatigue can last throughout the day, resulting in difficulty concentrating, or even falling asleep unintentionally. Obviously these side effects are a serious concern for truck drivers and train engineers. In addition to fatigue, the lack of oxygen caused by the disorder can result in other serious symptoms. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and depression.

How is Sleep Apnea Treated?

One common treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This treatment consists of wearing a mask over the nose and/or mouth during sleep. The mask is connected to a machine that delivers a continuous flow of air, which regulates breathing. In some situations, surgery might be necessary to effectively treat sleep apnea. If the disorder is caused by a deviated nasal septum or enlarged tonsils, doctors might suggest surgery.

Sleep Apnea is a Real Problem in the Trucking Industry

Research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reveals that drivers with sleep apnea who don’t follow the required treatment by their employers are five times more likely to be involved in a severe crash. Moreover, the study showed that truck drivers with sleep apnea who refused treatment were involved in 70 preventable, serious truck crashes. Contrastly, truck drivers who were under treatment for sleep apnea were involved in 14 serious crashes.

As many as 20% of large truck and bus crashes are estimated to be related to fatigue. According to Dr. Stefanos N. Kales, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common medical cause of fatigue. However, when the condition is properly diagnosed and treated, the risk of crashing is reduced to that of a driver without the disorder.

“Leaving it up to an industry to regulate itself is a dangerous risk to take. Lives are at stake here. We sincerely hope the transportation agencies change get these safety measures back on the table,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.

Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the California personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have been injured in a truck accident and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, and Yucca Valley and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.

DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.

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