Sleep stakeholders look to passage of guidelines in 2017

‘There’s going to be a large number of drivers who are going to need these services’
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Friday, December 30, 2016

WASHINGTON – Mandatory sleep testing and treatment guidelines for commercial drivers are on the verge of becoming a reality, and stakeholders are hopeful that the recent presidential election won’t put the brakes on that.

“We thought it was a fait accompli, and it probably would have been under a Clinton administration,” said Dana Voien, president of SleepSafe Drivers, a Laguna Nigel, Calif.-based sleep management provider, which helped craft the current draft language. “Trump has insisted he’s going to have a moratorium on regulations, so we’ll have to wait and see.”

In October, the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and Medical Review Board voted to approve guidelines to screen truck drivers with a body mass index of 40 or higher with admitted fatigue or sleeping during wakeful periods.

Screening could also be mandatory for drivers with a BMI of at least 33 and have at least three out of 11 risk factors, such as untreated hypertension, Type 2 diabetes or loud snoring.

“It’s all been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget,” said Steven Garrish, senior vice president of safety and regulatory compliance for SleepSafe. “They need to review the impact of the regulation and then a decision from the FMCSA will be forthcoming, but not until the second or third quarter of 2017 at the earliest.”

The FMCSA has sought to implement recommendations for sleep screening and testing of commercial drivers since at least 2008. The organization has found that while 28% of any truck fleet will test positive for sleep apnea, 80% don’t know it.

After years of pushback, the tide is finally turning, says Garrish, who points growing evidence on the risks of driver fatigue.

“Over the last three years there’s been several in-depth studies that show correlations between sleep dysfunction and crashes,” he said. “Those things have gotten a lot of people interested that weren’t interested before.”

The Federal Railroad Administration has also gotten onboard, stating in November that it would issue a safety advisory to address worker fatigue and stress the importance of sleep apnea screening and treatment. A Sept. 29 commuter train crash in Hoboken, N.J., killed one woman and injured more than 100 others. The driver in that crash has severe sleep apnea, according to news reports.

When the regulation is finally implemented, there’s huge potential for providers to diagnose and treat drivers, says Garrish, who estimates the number of commercial drivers nationwide to be about 6 million.

“When the regulation comes out, there’s going to be a large number of drivers who are going to these need services,” he said.