Sleep apnea, a disorder causing repeated pauses in breathing during sleep, affects at least one in 10 people. In serious cases, obstructive sleep apnea can cause someone to fall asleep with little to no warning.
In 2016, after a spate of high-profile train crashes and fatal truck crashes caused by sleeping drivers, the Obama administration looked for a proactive approach to preventing such tragedies.
One idea: make testing train engineers and truck drivers for sleep apnea a requirement.
This month, after 18 months of considering and reviewing a sleep apnea testing rule, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration announced that they are withdrawing that proposed rule.
There will be no requirement for sleep apnea testing of commercial truckers, bus drivers, and train operators.
Here’s why trucking companies should test for sleep apnea anyhow
It is currently up to individual railroad and trucking companies to decide whether or not to test employees for sleep apnea.
For the safety of the public and the employees themselves, they really should.
- Fatigue is potentially dangerous for any driver. But most people drive a car for maybe an hour a day. Commercial drivers could spend 10x that long behind the wheel of an 80,000 lb. semi-truck.
- Sleep apnea is the most common medical cause of fatigue. According to one of the largest sleep apnea studies, as many as half of all commercial motor vehicle drivers are at risk.
- After years of decline, motor vehicle crashes are on the rise. Up to 20% of crashes of large trucks and buses are estimated to be fatigue-related.
This year in Washington State alone, we’ve seen what looks like a significant jump in semi-truck crashes.
Even non-fatal truck crashes can cause serious harm, and are expensive and time-consuming for everyone involved—including motor carriers, owners and truckers.
The trucking industry is already preparing to be challenged by emerging driverless technology, as James Hamblin points out in The Atlantic.
It is in the best interest of the trucking industry (and also, the public) to take all possible safety measures.
Because the more dangerous and costly truckers are, the more incentive there is for autonomous trucks to start to replace them.
A couple months ago, I reviewed a police report in which a commercial truck driver admitted he slept only three hours the night before he caused a terrible crash.
When your job is driving—especially if you’re driving an 80,000 lb. semi-truck— lack of sleep can be truly dangerous.