“Sleep apnea is an important cause of fatigue,” Mary Gunnels, head of FMCSA’s Office of Medical Programs, said at the Sleep Apnea & Trucking Conference recently. “It is an important problem that has to be addressed. We know this is a public health issue.” Based on these findings, new FMCSA sleep apnea standards are currently being developed. The one-day conference was sponsored by American Trucking Associations, FMCSA and the American Sleep Apnea Association.
Sleep apnea is a condition that affects an estimated 28% of truckers. Gunnels told carriers, doctors and government officials in attendance to expect “more emphasis” on apnea as the agency formulates new FMCSA sleep apnea standards that medical examiners can use to perform physical examinations on commercial drivers.
Drivers who are fatigued from sleep apnea and other causes are involved in at least twice as many accidents as those who are not, according to recent studies. The new FMCSA sleep apnea standards will be able to separate those with sleep apnea from the general population of truck drivers on our roads.
It’s currently required that truckers undergo testing every two years or more frequently, if necessary, because of health conditions. The exam does not specifically disqualify drivers diagnosed with sleep apnea as it does if a driver’s vision does not meet the required standards.
It is the determination of the examiner whether a driver with sleep apnea should be prevented from driving. FMCSA now considers the condition as one of several severe cardiopulmonary conditions that can sideline a driver.
Fatigue has been specified as the cause of at least 15% of fatal single-truck crashes, in which drivers typically run off the road and hit a fixed object such as a tree. FMCSA has said crashes occur most often between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. on rural roads.