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The National Private Truck Council (NPTC) is a trade association representing private trucking fleets in the U.S. Members range in size and include family-owned small businesses, town utility fleets and Fortune 500 global conglomerates. The association focuses on a variety of issues, including safety, training and government advocacy. Road King talked with Richard Schweitzer, legal counsel for NPTC, to learn more about the association’s work on sleep apnea.
Q While you don’t make a recommendation as to whether or how motor carriers should address the issue of sleep disorders within their company, you have assembled a Task Force on Sleep Apnea to provide carriers with educational information on the disorder. What do you hope to achieve and what have you learned?
A Our goal is to create a heightened state of awareness of sleep apnea and ways carriers can address it. During our research, we found that untreated sleep apnea is common in the general population and more frequent in truck drivers. This creates several issues for motor carriers. Not only can sleep apnea be a health and safety concern, but it is also a quality of life issue. However, there is no clear-cut way for carriers to address sleep apnea.
Q What federal regulations regarding sleep apnea apply to drivers and carriers?
A There are no existing regulations specific to sleep apnea although 49 CFR 191.41(b)(5) states that a person is physically qualified to drive a CMV if the person has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his or her ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely.
FMCSA recently posted non-binding recommendations on commercial drivers and sleep apnea, but formal regulations are not expected from the agency for months or even years. But medical examiners may determine that sleep apnea is a disqualifying condition, which means drivers could be disqualified until they’ve been treated successfully. While sleep apnea is highly treatable, carriers have questions about how they know a driver is complying with treatment and how long treatment has to be underway before a driver is in compliance. They have questions about how and how long they monitor treatment among drivers while still respecting employees’ privacy.
We’ve found that carriers want to ensure they’re implementing the most effective programs, but there is little guidance for them on how to do it. In the absence of formal regulations, many carriers fear that doing something may be worse than doing nothing.
Q How is the trucking industry working with regulatory agencies to ensure regulations meet drivers’ needs?
A Because there are so many shades of gray, no one group has all the answers. It is important for all of us to work together. As part of our task force, we are gathering information from health professionals on diagnosing and treating sleep apnea and from private fleets on successful programs they’ve put in place voluntarily. Once we learn more about their best practices, we plan to share that information with government groups and the industry.