To ensure the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration fully studies the issue of sleep apnea before issuing guidance, NSTA and other transportation associations called for legislation requiring a rulemaking proceeding — and today they are celebrating the swift passage of H.R. 3095 in the House by a unanimous vote of 405-0.
Now NSTA is turning its attention to the Senate and the association is asking all members to reach out to their Senators in an effort to secure additional co-sponsors to S. 1537, the companion bill to H.R. 3095.
On Sept. 12, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) introduced H.R. 3095, which would require the FMCSA to only address screening and testing for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and other sleep disorders for commercial vehicle operators through the formal notice and comment rulemaking process. That week NSTA asked its members to reach out to their members in the House of Representatives in an effort to secure additional co-sponsors to this legislation.
“The safety record of the school bus industry is unmatched because it is always our top priority. We are most appreciative to have the support of both Congressmen Dr. Bucshon and Congressman Lipinski in ensuring that FMCSA consider this issue in a comprehensive way, including a cost-benefit analysis, to ensure that any new mandates will actually improve safety,” said NSTA President Tim Flood.
In May, FMCSA Assistant Administrator Jack Van Steenburg told attendees of the Zonar “ZONE” User Conference in San Antonio, Texas, that federal guidance on OSA and other sleep disorders for commercial drivers would be issued by the end of this year.
NSTA has been among the critics of potential regulation because of the burden it could place on private commercial carriers, such as having to disqualify commercial drivers diagnosed with OSA. Additionally, NSTA has expressed concern over the possibility of private bus companies being required to test their drivers and pay for those tests as well as resulting treatment.
"Any new mandate that would impose over $100 million in costs on the industry should occur only after careful analysis of costs and benefits that the rulemaking process requires, to ensure that it would result in improved safety for our nation’s schoolchildren," noted NSTA Executive Director Ronna Weber. "This bill simply ensures that a regulatory proposal of this magnitude is considered through the appropriate process."
The school bus contractors association thanked the industry partners that aided in developing the new legislation, including the American Trucking Association, American Bus Association, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, United Motorcoach Association and International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
“If the (FMCSA) wants to regulate sleep apnea, it should do so through the normal, established regulatory process rather than through informal guidance,” added ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “The rulemaking process allows for medical experts and the regulated community, including professional drivers, to provide valuable data and input for the agency to consider in developing its regulations. A formal rulemaking will also require an analysis of the benefits and costs of regulating sleep apnea, an analysis not required for the issuance of guidance."
Dr. Michael Lucia, a certified sleep disorder specialist, addressed the rising incidence of OSA during an STN EXPO panel in July. He estimated that sleep apnea testing in certified laboratories can cost about $1,300, not including the cost of CPAP machines prescribed to treat positive diagnoses.
According to Lucia, just 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from sleep apnea, yet 15 to 40 percent of commercial drivers have the condition. He noted that drivers with OSA are three to five times more likely to be in a traffic accident, which includes school bus drivers responsible for the safety of roughly 24 million students nationwide.