House to slow federal rules requiring sleep testing for truck drivers

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), says the FMCSA initially proposed issuing guidance that would require all drivers to be tested. He said that would allow the agency to avoid taking formal comment on the proposal from the trucking industry, which would be hit by hundreds of millions of dollars in new testing fees.

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"If FMSCA wants to weigh in on this issue then they should go through the proper rulemaking process," Bucshon said last week when he proposed the bill. "With such tremendous potential costs to the truck and bus industry, it is critical that we include all the stakeholders, including the medical and trucking communities, in any thorough analysis of fatigue-related crashes."

American Trucking Association President Bill Graves said there are more than three million truckers, and Bucshon says an average sleep apnea test could cost more than $2,200 per driver. Graves said that could put the total testing cost above $1 billion.

"Taking a step as potentially costly as that shouldn't be undertaken lightly and outside of the normal processes," Graves said.

The bill has moved quickly since Bucshon proposed it last week. It was approved unanimously in the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee last week, and could get a vote on the House floor as early as Wednesday.

The bill currently has 59 co-sponsors that include members of both parties.

The FMCSA's website says sleep apnea is a breathing-related sleep disorder that can interrupt sleep, and make it harder to stay awake and pay attention on the road.

A recent study sponsored by the FMCSA found that 28 percent of commercial truck drivers have mild to severe sleep apnea. According to the agency's website, a motor carrier "may not require or permit a driver to operate a CMV if the driver has a condition — including sleep apnea — that would affect his or her ability to safety operate the vehicle."

"Because sleep apnea affects your sleep, it also affects your daytime alertness and performance," the site adds. "Untreated sleep apnea can make it difficult for you to stay awake, focus your eyes, and react quickly while driving. In general, studies show that people with untreated sleep apnea have an increased risk of being involved in a fatigue-related motor vehicle crash."