A few weeks ago the FMCSA announced that it is seeking feedback from truck drivers and industry experts about their new pre-rule on sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common chronic condition where breathing is paused during sleep leading to poor sleep quality. If left untreated it could lead to serious health conditions.
The FMCSA estimates that 28% of commercial truck drivers suffer from mild to severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Chances are the number is actually much higher as many people go undiagnosed because they just don’t know they have sleep apnea or they are afraid they could lose their jobs.
On March 21st, the largest sleep apnea study in commercial truck drivers was published in the medical journal, “Sleep.” Schneider National provided the study’s data. In 2006, Schneider became the first major fleet to institute an OSA program for its drivers.

Researchers from Harvard, University of Minnesota, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital compared a control group of 2,016 drivers unlikely to be diagnosed with OSA to 1,613 drivers with diagnosed OSA. The researchers then compared rates of preventative serious crashes per 100,000 miles drive across both study groups.
Amongst the diagnosed OSA group, 682 truckers fully met requirements and adhered to the treatment protocol of using the company provided breathing machines. Of the remaining truckers, 571 drivers partially adhered to treatment and 360 drivers never used the machines. The researchers then compared the data of these subgroups for significant preventable accidents where the driver was at fault.
Truckers diagnosed with OSA who do not adhere to treatment protocols have a preventable crash rate five times greater than those who do not have OSA with similar driving experience. The crash rate for drivers who fully complied with their OSA treatment have a crash rate no different than those who do not have OSA.

Also Read: Sleep Apnea: Regaining Control of Your Health
So what does this mean for drivers? On March 10th the FMCSA released a series of 20 questions soliciting feedback on OSA’s prevalence amongst commercial truck drivers and the effectiveness of available treatment. As of March 22nd, the agency has received over 83 comments from mostly truckers who believe that any potential regulatory action “would be overzealous and intrusive.”  
Currently drivers must undergo a bi-annual exam to determine their medical fitness to safely operate a truck. However, the current exam lacks mandatory OSA screening standards. In light of this new study, the FMCSA might opt to require an OSA screening in all future medical fitness tests.
Remember you have until June 8th to submit feedback and comments on this subject to the FMCSA. This won’t be the last you hear about sleep apnea so stay tuned throughout the year for updates.

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Sean Bryant

Sean is a graduate of the University of Iowa where he received a Bachelor's of Arts degree in economics. After beginning his career in banking, he found his love for marketing. Before arriving at ATBS in 2014 he spent time working for two different technology startups as well as his own freelance marketing company.

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