Shelving the Trucker Sleep Apnea Rule? A Terrible and Dangerous Idea

by Terry Bryant

Talking the talk that the Trump Administration is against regulation, in the late summer of 2017, the Department of Transportation (DOT) withdrew a well-intended proposal that would have required truck drivers to be tested for sleep apnea. But irony lies in the fact that in getting rid of this particular “stifling regulation” on the trucking industry that would allegedly allow the firms to operate more efficiently, deregulation has already created the conditions in which sleep apnea thrives among truckers.

Sleep apnea causes some people – who are usually overweight – to periodically stop breathing as they sleep. Those who are afflicted aren’t getting very good rest, which tends to make them drowsy and less alert when they are awake. This is why sleep apnea is particularly challenging for truck drivers — not to mention those in other vehicles who must share the road with these drowsy drivers.

A report released in late December 2016 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAA Foundation) concludes that drivers who sleep only five or six hours in a 24-hour period are twice as likely to crash than those who get at least seven hours of sleep. And the less sleep the person behind the wheel gets, the higher the crash rate, according to the findings. AAA Foundation discovered that drivers in the study who only got four or five hours of sleep were four times more likely to be involved in a crash. That’s roughly the same increase as drunk drivers.

The pervasiveness of sleep apnea in truck drivers has been subject to a certain amount of debate, mostly prompted by the trucking industry because their interests lie in drivers’ keeping to unreasonably tight schedules, thereby encouraging them to spend more time on the road than safety allows. But some studies suggest higher rates of sleep apnea occur in over-the-road truckers than in the general population. One reason is that sleep apnea can be exacerbated by obesity. And considering the overall sedentary nature of truck driving, it follows that obesity rates are alarmingly high among truckers, and many of them suffer from this disorder. Sleep apnea is a problem for truckers, and getting rid of trucking industry regulations that would curb it won’t help.

The irony surrounding the deregulation of the trucking industry over the years has not been lost on critics of the Trump-backed relaxation of the sleep apnea testing rule. Deregulation has allowed trucking firms to have a freer hand in not only controlling how their drivers work, but over their very lives. Deregulation has eroded the strong unions that protected drivers from some of the unreasonable practices of an industry which coincidentally has fewer (and larger) companies than it used to. Gradually, the smaller firms have been forced out of the trucking marketplace since the Reagan Administration began the deregulation process.

The proposed mandatory test for sleep apnea is just one example of this deregulatory trend – a desperate stopgap, if you will. Protecting not only truck drivers, but all of us, from the dangerous actions of a drowsy truck driver who nods off behind the wheel of a 75,000-pound guided missile gives way to the simple, hollow argument of “deregulation.”

When did the government decide to deregulate safety?

If you or a member of your family has been harmed or wrongfully killed by an out-of-control 18-wheeler, contact Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law by filling out our online contact form, or call us toll-free at 1 (800) 444-5000.