Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, has been proven to contribute to accidents on the road that involve both passenger and commercial vehicles. So it was a shock to discover that the two agencies who had put forth a rule regarding testing for OSA have withdrawn it. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have quietly retracted the rule—in August, 2017—that they published in March, 2016.
While OSA has been characterized as “an on-going concern,” both the FMCSA and the FRA now consider the problem to be one that can be taken care of using safety programs and rules already in existence. Many consider this stance wrong from the point of view of public safety.
Why is OSA Serious Business?
OSA is marked by chronic breathing problems that interrupt sleep in such a way as to cause overpowering daytime drowsiness. What this means is that you can fall asleep almost instantaneously through no fault of your own because you have no control over the situation. If you happen to be engineering a train or driving a semi, crashes and fatalities can soon follow.
While this condition is usually treated with CPAP systems (pressurized breathing systems) and certain oral apparatus that keeps airways open during sleep, you won’t have the equipment to control OSA if you are undiagnosed. That’s why the federal rule that promoted testing for moderate-to-severe OSA, the rule that has since been retracted, is crucial to saving lives. In fact, both the FRA and FMCSA have stated in the past that OSA is “a critical safety issue that can affect operations in all modes of travel in the transportation industry.”
What is the NTSB’s Opinion?
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) thinks that the withdrawal of the OSA rule is wrong-headed, characterizing it as “disappointing.” The media relations chief for the NTSB, Christopher O’Neil, is on record as saying, “Obstructive sleep apnea has been the probable cause of 10 highway and rail accidents investigated by the NTSB in the past 17 years and obstructive sleep apnea is an issue being examined in several, ongoing, NTSB rail and highway investigations.”
In fact, OSA testing has been recommended by the NTSB for a number of years. Some railroads already require it; the Metro-North Rail Road in the New York suburbs has found out, through testing, that 11.6 percent of their engineers have OSA. That’s nearly 1 in 9.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that the numbers for commercial truck drivers might be similar. And yet our federal agencies contend that it should be up to individual rail roads and trucking companies to test employees—despite the fact that the NTSB has linked OSA to a number of fatal accidents.
For perspective: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tests for OSA. They have found that more than 90 percent of those with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater have OSA that requires treatment. A BMI of 40 is mildly obese.
The Next Step
Supposedly, those who have concerns about OSA and driver safety should employ existing safety rules and programs such as the North American Fatigue Management Program. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether this sort of thing will be sufficient. The former administrator of the FRA, Sarah Feinberg, noted, “It’s very hard to argue that people aren’t being put at risk.”
Seeking truth. Securing justice.
Truck accidents can be extremely complicated both because of the large amounts of money often involved and because of the potential for multiple defendants. It is important to consult with a qualified South Carolina truck accident lawyer to make sure your rights are protected. If you’ve been in an accident with a truck, the Louthian Law Firm can help make things right. We’ll deal with the insurance companies on your behalf to help you get the compensation you deserve for your medical bills, repair bills, lost income and any other financial costs that the accident caused. Where appropriate, we’ll also seek compensation on your behalf for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses. With our hands-on approach, you’ll get exceptional results.