Feds abandon plans to test all truckers, train engineers for sleep apnea


DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – The Trump administration’s announcement it’s scrapping an Obama-era push for federal requirements to test all truck drivers and train engineers for sleep apnea is drawing mixed reactions.

The administration calls it an effort to limit federal regulation, but some safety experts say the decision puts American motorists and passengers at risks.

A University of Pennsylvania study found 28 percent of commercial truck drivers suffer from mild to severe sleep apnea. The disorder can be especially dangerous to transportation workers, who can experience drowsiness from inadequate sleep.

Safety manager Gary Seitz of Dayton-based Cordell Transportation acknowledged the dangers of drowsy driving.

“We don’t want the people who are half asleep or more behind the wheel, just like we don’t want people who are on drugs or alcohol behind the wheel,” Seitz said.

Cordell Transportation follows national guidelines when screening its employees for potentially dangerous health conditions.

The company requires its truck drivers receive biannual physicals from doctors certified by the Department of Transportation. Some employees require further assessments based on his or her age, weight and existing health conditions, and physicians can use their discretion when determining whether the patient should be screened for a sleep disorder.

Seitz said the company trusts the current process to identify at-risk drivers and he said a blanket federal regulation could be burdensome.

“I’m glad they didn’t tighten up the rules on sleep apnea just because of the fact that it was going to be too concrete and set in stone. It’s not a one-size-fits-all issue,” Seitz said.

Others are criticizing the president’s decision to drop the effort for federal regulations.

The National Transportation Safety Board suspects sleep apnea could be to blame for ten separate highway and road accidents it’s investigating and it has long recommended testing for the disorder.

In 2013, the Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road started requiring it after finding the engineer involved in a deadly commuter rail crash suffered from a severe, undiagnosed case of sleep apnea.

Federal standards require train engineers undergo vision and hearing tests every three years. Some railroad companies require annual physicals and many of the largest passenger rail companies, including Amtrak, screen engineers for sleep apnea.

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