WASHINGTON — Four Democratic senators from New York and New Jersey have sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao pressing Chao on DOT’s decision to withdraw the proposed rule to mandate sleep apnea testing on the federal level for rail workers and commercial truck drivers if a symptom is observed.
The letter was signed by Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey and Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
In the letter, the senators requested the data DOT used to make the decision to withdraw the rule along with DOT’s plan to identify and treat rail operators and truckers suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.
“We strongly believe that DOT should immediately reconsider the decision in order to help avoid future fatigue-related tragedies,” the senators wrote. “Due to our serious concern over this decision to vacate this potentially life-saving rule, please provide our offices all data and information used to make the decision to withdraw the rule, and DOT’s plan to identify and treat operators suffering from obstructive sleep apnea before more fatal tragedies take place.”
A rule proposed by the Obama administration in March 2016 would have expanded sleep apnea testing and treatment requirements for train operators and commercial truck drivers across the nation.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced that the rule had been withdrawn.
“The 2016 proposed rule consisted of a modest, common-sense approach to combating fatigue on our roads and rails: require testing for obstructive sleep apnea if a problematic symptom is observed,” the letter read. “The National Transportation Safety Board, whose mission is to advance transportation safety, has strongly supported this rulemaking and for over a decade, after a 2001 accident in Michigan, has recommended the FRA require all railroads to screen for and treat sleep apnea.
“We strongly believe that DOT should immediately reconsider the decision in order to help avoid future fatigue-related tragedies. Due to our serious concern over this decision to vacate this potentially life-saving rule, please provide our offices all data and information used to make the decision to withdraw the rule, and DOT’s plan to identify and treat operators suffering from obstructive sleep apnea before more fatal tragedies take place.”
The letter said that obstructive sleep apnea has been the probable cause in a significant number of rail and highway accidents throughout the region, including the 2013 Metro-North derailment in New York that resulted in four fatalities and more than 60 injuries.
“Following the deadly 2016 derailment in Hoboken, New Jersey, that killed one person and injured more than 100, the NJ Transit engineer operating the train was found to suffer from undiagnosed sleep apnea,” the senators said.
“Withdrawal of the rulemaking will continue the ‘no-rule rules’ drivers currently deal with where medical examiners do whatever they want. Even if it was a bad rule, regulations on sleep apnea would be better,” said Bob Stanton, co-coordinator of Truckers For a Cause, a support group for CMV drivers under OSA treatment.
“The reason they refer to it as the ‘no-rule, rule’ is because at this point in time, no rule exists regarding sleep apnea, yet medical examiners are testing for it based upon the guidance issued by FMCSA for certified medical examiners,” explained David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association. “There has been no rulemaking, ever, on this, yet MEs are testing for it.”