A representative of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last week told a room of commercial vehicle operators, including school buses, that a proposed federal regulation on sleep apnea is imminent and will be released "hopefully soon."
Jack Van Steenburg, FMCSA chief safety office and assistant administrator, keynoted a breakfast held during the inaugural Zonar Systems "ZONE" user conference in San Antonio, Texas. He called the upcoming guidance "significant" and said it would be similar in scope to recommendations made in April by the Medical Review Board. But first, he added, the White House Office of Management and Budget must review the regulation. Once released, the public would have 60 days to comment.
Each state adopts its own medical standards for commercial drivers, and many states have also adopted the federal medical regulation that sleep apnea is a disqualifying condition. The FMCSA says that 18 million people nationwide suffer from sleep apnea, and driver fatigue is a factor in 13 percent of all commercial truck crashes and is one of the most dangerous conditions for drivers of large trucks. However, only a small portion of for-hire school bus operations fall under FMCSA oversight. Still, there are concerns.
NSTA has held that sleep apnea regulations will hurt business because of a provision that would strip drivers with sleep apnea of their CDL until a certified medical examiner qualifies that the driver is fit to return to duty. NSTA is also concerned about a potential FMCSA requirement for commerical vehicle operators to test their drivers for sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. These tests can run anywhere between $400 and $700 per person. NSTA has said there is little federal guidance as to who should pay for these tests, the company or the driver. Additional concerns center on treatment of sleep apnea, which can run into the thousands of dollars.
NSTA is currently conducting a letter-writing campaign amongst its members to ask congressional members to join Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), chair of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee, in asking FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro to rethink the sleep apnea regulation. The letter states that the regulation would cost the school-bus industry alone more than $100 million. The letter also states that the subcommittee supports "meaningful efforts to address fatigue-related crashes."
Max Christensen, NASDPTS president and the state director of transportation at the Iowa Department of Education, is expected to lead a new discussion on sleep apnea and driver fitness for school bus drivers at the STN EXPO in July. Christensen said members of NASDPTS, NAPT and NSTA once again met with FMCSA officials in Washington, D.C., in April to discuss the pending regulation and to voice concern about consequences for the industry.