Safety & Compliance

U.S. House Passes Sleep Apnea Legislation, Senate Bill Introduced

September 26, 2013

By Evan Lockridge

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One part of Congress moved the fastest it has in quite a while on Thursday and in a most unusual, bipartisan fashion.

By a vote of 405-0, the U.S. House passed a bill requiring any Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration action on sleep apnea to go through the usual rulemaking process rather than simply issuing guidance.

H.R. 3095, introduced earlier this month by Reps. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., and Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., does not require FMCSA to issue any policy or regulation regarding sleep apnea. Rather, the bill ensures that any future policy issued on sleep apnea does not avoid a thorough analysis of the prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea among truck and bus drivers, the range of possible actions to address the problem or the costs and benefits of any policy. Proponents of the legislation say FMCSA guidance on sleep apnea could cost trucking $1 billion annually.

If FMSCA wants to weigh in on sleep apnea, then they should go through the proper, transparent rulemaking process,” said Bucshon. “With such tremendous potential costs to the truck and bus industry, it is critical that we include all the stakeholders, including medical professionals and the trucking community, in any thorough analysis of fatigue-related crashes. I am pleased that the House passed H.R. 3095 with overwhelming support and I look forward to the Senate continuing this effort.”

A version of the Senate bill was introduced this week by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the chair and ranking member of the Senate subcommittee responsible for oversight of the FMCSA, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. It has been referred to the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, where it awaits action.

Trucking interests have been deeply concerned that FMCSA’s approach of posting a guidance, rather than a formal rule, does not give employers a clear enough statement of their legal responsibilities.

Earlier this month, Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety, security and driver training for Schneider National, told Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari that the agency’s approach has the effect of putting trucking companies in a tight legal spot.

“It puts motor carriers in a situation where we can pick our lawsuit,” he said. He explained that carriers must embrace agency guidelines as rules, or be subject to post-accident litigation.

“We are hopeful that the Senate will follow the House and strongly support this commonsense and necessary legislation,” said Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association executive vice President Todd Spencer. “We are hopeful that the Senate will follow the House and strongly support this commonsense and necessary legislation.” 

FMCSA recently said it would go through the rulemaking process for future apnea policy, but those supporting this legislation say Congress should still weigh in by passing legislation to guarantee that a transparent and sound process is used.

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