Friday, September 13, 2013

Sleep Apnoea - the Silent Killer of Truck Drivers and Innocent Road Users Just Engenders More Talk

Whilst Politicians Pontificate the Death Toll from Avoidable Accidents Mounts Daily
Shipping News Feature

US – WORLDWIDE – Having some experience of the devastation the problem can cause, the Handy Shipping Guide has written and blogged before on the subject of sleep apnoea (or apnea to our American readers). Now, just as it seems there are parties in the US who are taking the problem as seriously as it should be, comes the news that two US congressmen have introduced legislation aimed at ensuring all the proposed screening and testing of professional truck and bus drivers is done under controlled conditions.

Apnoea is not widely appreciated as the killer it is, firstly because the condition, which causes sufferers to be inattentive and with a tendency to fall asleep easily due to lack of deep sleep, is often linked to obesity which often leads freight, bus drivers and others into denial. The problem can often be addressed by losing weight and usually with the aid of a C-pap or Bi-pap breathing machine which regulates the sufferers breathing pattern by way of a face mask and air pump with sensor equipment.

The condition causes the cessation of breathing whilst asleep, sometimes a minute or more at a time, and can result in the rapid death of brain cells, blinding headaches and the likelihood of falling asleep when going about one’s normal life, all usually easily resolve with the proper treatment. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) whose website contains some excellent information and explanations of diagnosis and treatment, wishes to get tougher with drivers and their employers to ensure all professional drivers are adequately tested.

In November 2011 Anne S. Ferro, FMCSA Administrator revealed that a seven year study showed, not only that apnoea was linked to age and body mass but that drivers with the condition had been involved in 4.6 times more serious accidents than those without the condition. There are no less than 39 commercial driver's licence rules published by the FMCSA specifically mentioning the condition. 

Now it seems congressmen Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) are tabling legislation to ensure testing standards of testing for the problem are set by federal government, as opposed to the guidance which the FMCSA wishes issued immediately. Trucking and bus driving associations and their unions have backed the idea of a formal procedure with the American Trucking Associations (ATA) particularly vociferous in their support, ATA President and CEO Bill Graves, saying:

“This is not an insignificant step, there are more than 3 million professional truck drivers and the cost of screening, diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnoea could easily exceed $1 billion annually. Taking a step as potentially costly as that shouldn’t be undertaken lightly and outside of the normal processes. ATA believes that if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants to regulate sleep apnoea, it should do so through the normal, established regulatory process rather than through informal guidance.

“The rulemaking process allows for medical experts, the regulated community, including professional drivers, to provide valuable data and input for the agency to consider in developing its regulations. A formal rulemaking will also require an analysis of the benefits and costs of regulating sleep apnoea, an analysis not required for the issuance of guidance.”

Bucshon and Lipinski’s bill is also supported by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the American Bus Association, the United Motorcoach Association, the National School Transportation Association and the United Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Photo: Another accident caused by a truck driver suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea.