Truck Driver Sleep Apnea Debate Receives Shot Of Espresso

by Andrew R. Young | February 13th, 2012

Improving Driver Fitness and preventing Fatigued Driving continue to be priorities for safety advocates.  Now that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has made recent changes to its Hours of Service (HOS) rules, regulators are shifting their attention to truck driver sleep apnea.  While the FMCSA does not currently have sleep apnea regulations, the alarm clock is sounding off and the truck driver sleep apnea debate is receiving a fresh shot of espresso.

A truck driver must pass a medical examination and have a current medical certificate to legally drive a commercial motor vehicle in accordance with 49 CFR Part 391.41.  Sleep apnea is now being considered as a possible disqualifying factor regarding a truck driver’s physical ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle.  Sleep apnea results in daytime drowsiness caused by repeated sleep disturbances due to a narrowing or closure of the upper airway producing poor sleep quality.  Body Mass Index (BMI) scores, weight, age, and neck size are all being considered as the possible criteria to be utilized by medical examiners to determine whether a truck driver should be required to undergo further sleep apnea testing.

Earlier this month, a joint advisory committee of the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and Medical Review Board met, adopting numerous recommendations. The joint committee adopted one recommendation that all truck drivers with a BMI score of 35 or higher be required to undergo mandatory sleep apnea testing.  A 17-inch neck size for males, 15.5 inch neck size for females, being 42 years-old or older, having a family history or a small jaw or airway, and being obese are other possible risk factors being considered for further sleep apnea testing.

If diagnosed, truck drivers will be required to undergo additional medical scrutiny to demonstrate successful treatment before being issued a medical certification.  The joint committee considered Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines as a highly effective form of treating and monitoring truck drivers with sleep apnea.  Truck drivers will be required to prove that they are using a  CPAP machine at least four (4) hours nightly for five (5) out of seven (7) nights a week.

The joint committee’s recommendations are advisory only and may turn into regulatory rules down-the-road.  Before this becomes a rule, truck industry advocates are asking for further review into whether a causal relationship actually exists between obstructive sleep apnea and an increased risk for crashes.  Do truck drivers with sleep apnea have a greater risk for causing an accident?  With eye-opening focus and energy on this debate, it is likely that the sleep apnea issue is not going to be put to bed anytime soon.  Meanwhile, all motorists, not just truck drivers, should become educated and more aware about sleep apnea and the need to make better lifestyle choices to keep ourselves healthy and our highways safe.

Authored by: Trial Attorney / Truck Accident Attorney – Andrew R. Young, Esquire – Class A CDL License