U.S. regulators drop mandatory sleep apnea testing

WASHINGTON D.C. – Federal regulators in the United States will no longer be looking to make tests for moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea mandatory for truck drivers or railway engineers.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) revealed last week that they are withdrawing their March 2016 notice seeking the changes for those in safety sensitive positions in highway and rail transportation.

The withdrawal comes as regulators are ditching new directives under an executive order signed by President Trump last January requiring two regulations to be eliminated for every one new one introduced, in an effort to, Trump said, help business growth in the U.S.

Sleep apnea is a condition that can momentarily stop breathing hundreds of times a night and can cause sufferers to experience poor and interrupted sleep, leaving them feeling exhausted. For drivers, this can mean sleepiness behind the wheel.

Recent studies have shown fatigue in drivers to be behind up to 80% of highway collision fatalities. Under the proposed regulations companies could have been held responsible had drivers with sleep apnea been involved in fatal collisions.

The regulations were lobbied by safety advocates as drivers and train engineers involved in recent fatal collisions were shown to have the previously undiagnosed condition. Testing for drivers will now remain at the discretion of individual employers.

Sleep apnea screening programs administered by employers for drivers were ruled to not be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by the U.S. Supreme Court in April of this year.

Both agencies said in a statement they believe that current safety programs addressing fatigue risk management are adequate to addressing sleep apnea. 

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