Safety Experts Decry Rollback Of Sleep Apnea Screening For Truck Drivers

Aug 8, 2017
Originally published on August 8, 2017 7:24 pm
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The Trump administration is ending a plan to screen train engineers and truck drivers for sleep apnea. Safety experts worry the move will make roads and rails less safe. But as Bobby Allyn of member station WHYY reports, the trucking industry is embracing this change.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK BACKING UP)

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Tony Celentano is backing his truck full of produce into a loading dock in downtown Philadelphia. In 20 years behind the wheel, he says he's never had an accident.

TONY CELENTANO: You don't stare at the lines in the road. You have to look in your mirrors every 20, 30 seconds. You need to know what's going on around you.

ALLYN: But no matter how cautious drivers are, federal regulators say they are at risk for fatigue caused by obstructive sleep apnea. It's a condition where people stop breathing in their sleep and often wake up. That leaves them more likely to nod off on the job. The Obama administration wanted to make sleep apnea tests mandatory for train operators and truck drivers like Celentano. He's glad the Department of Transportation is now backing off. He says his company already videotapes him in the cab of his truck.

CELENTANO: What are they going to do next, have people come in and regularly check to make sure you sleep?

ALLYN: But National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Christopher O'Neil says sleep apnea has been linked to 10 highway and rail accidents over the last 17 years.

CHRISTOPHER O'NEIL: We know that obstructive sleep apnea is an issue that's being examined in several more active and ongoing NTSB investigations in both rail and highway.

ALLYN: The New Jersey transit engineer who slammed into a station in Hoboken last fall reportedly suffered from undiagnosed sleep apnea. One woman died and more than a hundred others were injured in the crash. Diane Katz with the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation says a new federal rule is not the answer. She says private industry should set its own safety standards.

DIANE KATZ: Companies have a significant incentive to ensure that their truckers don't kill people.

ALLYN: The federal government requires pilots to be tested for sleep apnea, and critics of the Trump administration say the same standard should apply on the country's roads and railways. For NPR News, I'm Bobby Allyn in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.