Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a serious, potentially life-threatening breathing-related sleep disorder which causes interruptions in breathing of 10 seconds or more during sleep. These interruptions may occur as often as 400 times per night. The disorder produces myriad symptoms, including daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, memory impairment, depression, and irritability. For reasons which should be obvious, these symptoms are dangerous and potentially deadly in commercial drivers. How dangerous? At least one study by the FMCSA has shown that OSA caused driving performance impairments similar to driving with a blood alcohol concentration over the federal limit applicable to commercial vehicle operators.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has estimated that as many as 28 percent of commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders have sleep apnea. You can find the link to this study here. The FMCSA has spent years trying to revise its current guidelines for OSA which are widely considered to be “vague and out-of-date”.
Fortunately, reports out of Washington indicate that Congress has now passed legislation which clears the way for the FMCSA to impose new requirements pertaining to driver sleep disorders and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) through the formal rulemaking process. The bill passed the senate in late September and was unanimously approved by the Senate on October 4, 20113. The president is expected to sign it. The FMCSA has not said when a new rulemaking might begin.