Dems press Trump admin over sleep apnea rule change

Dems press Trump admin over sleep apnea rule change
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Senate Democrats are pressing the Trump administration over its recent decision to abandon an Obama-era plan requiring all truck, train and bus operators to be screened for sleep apnea.

In a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) on Monday, a group of lawmakers asked the agency to explain why it withdrew from the safety effort and requested copies of “all data and information” that were used to make the decision. 

The senators also urged the administration to reconsider scrapping the proposal or else come up with a new plan to step up safety. They pointed to several deadly crashes that were linked to an undiagnosed sleeping disorder, including a 2013 Metro-North train derailment in New York and a New Jersey Transit crash last year.

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“The 2016 proposed rule consisted of a modest, common-sense approach to combating fatigue on our roads and rails: require testing for obstructive sleep apnea if a problematic symptom is observed,” the lawmakers wrote. “We strongly believe that DOT should immediately reconsider the decision in order to help avoid future fatigue-related tragedies.”

The letter is signed by Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies for Putin summit: 'He’s not my enemy’ Booker seizes on Kavanaugh confirmation fight Dem senator: Kavanaugh would 'turn back the clock' on women's health care MORE (N.J.), Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (N.Y.), Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth Gillibrand2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser Midterms will show voters are tired of taking back seat to Wall Street McConnell: I won't be intimidated by protesters MORE (N.Y.).

Sleep apnea causes a person’s airways to close and stops their breathing during sleep, potentially leading to daytime drowsiness. That can be particularly dangerous for people operating trains, buses and trucks.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a safety advisory last fall urging railroads to screen and treat workers for obstructive sleep apnea amid growing concern that the condition can cause workers to fall asleep on the job.

The recommendation was supposed to serve as a placeholder while the agency wrote new rules requiring railroads and other transportation companies to screen their operators for the sleeping disorder.

But the FRA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced earlier this month that they were cancelling that proposal.

The administration said it gathered significant information and held public listening sessions on the idea but “did not receive sufficient data to support future rulemaking at this time.”

The industry has also pointed out that the White House’s action does nothing to prevent carriers and railroads from testing for sleep apnea, which many companies already voluntarily do.

“The agencies determined that current and upcoming safety programs appropriately address fatigue risks, including OSA [obstructive sleep apnea],” said a DOT spokesperson. “FRA will continue to monitor railroads’ voluntary OSA programs and compliance with fatigue risk management plans, once implemented as part of risk reduction and system safety program.”