Proposed Mandatory Sleep Apnea Testing for Truckers
Unfortunately, a proposal to require testing of obstructive sleep apnea for railroad and trucking companies has been withdrawn.
Sleep apnea is believed to be a key factor in a deadly train crash last year at Hoboken Terminal in which one women was killed and dozens more were injured. In the incident, a New Jersey commuter train traveling at twice it's appropriate speed, barreled through an end-of-track barrier. Thomas Gallagher, the train's engineer, was later diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Although the agencies have withdrawn the proposed legislation that would mandate such screening for rail and trucking employees, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration both said they would encourage companies within those industries to voluntarily screen safety-sensitive employees, including train engineers and truck drivers for sleep apnea.
Despite their concerns about possible reduction in ability to respond to hazards caused by attention deficit and unintentional sleep episodes brought on by sleep apnea, the agencies will not mandate sleep apnea screenings as initially proposed in March 2016 by the Obama administration.
The incident that enkindled the proposed legislation was the derailment of a Metro-North commuter train in Spuyten Duyvil, NY in December 2013. That train flew off the tracks at 82 mph at a curve limited to 30 mph, killing four people. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation later determined that the engineer, William Rockefeller, had undiagnosed sleep apnea.
According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep apnea is a chronic condition that disrupts the quality of sleep and causes the sufferer to be tired and drowsy during the day. Unfortunately, the condition goes undiagnosed all too often.
The disorder causes shallow breaths or actual pauses in breathing while you sleep. These pauses can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, and can happen 30 times or more in an hour. Breathing typically resumes afterward with a choking sound or loud snort.
The pauses in breathing cause you to move from deep sleep into a less restorative light sleep, resulting in fatigue and excess sleepiness the next day.
Additionally, it is believed that Positive Train Control, an automated system that slows or stops trains moving too fast, could have prevented both crashes. Federal law requires that both N.J. Transit and Metro-North install the system before the end of next year.
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