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Government moves to include sleep apnea in truck driver tests

Two study groups with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration this week approved recommendations that commercial truck drivers should be screened for obstructive sleep apnea before being allowed to drive.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Signs you may have sleep apnea include loud snoring and feeling unrested even after a full night's sleep.

This recommendation is important because it may restrict the rights of people to make a living behind the wheel. Lives may be saved by taking this precaution - but many drivers and truck companies resent the intrusion by government.

FMCSA's Medical Review Board voted to approve the recommendations at its Oct. 25 meeting.

Why screening is a big deal

Truckers with a body mass index (BMI) or 40 or higher - i.e., they are overweight -- must take part in a sleep study. If sleep apnea is diagnosed, drivers must begin treatment within 90 days.

Two points of view

Many truckers and owner-operators are up in arms about the proposal. They feel trucks are being singled out. Further, regardless of their body mass index, they feel that if they are good, safety-minded, experienced drivers, they make the road a better place.

Medical experts, on the other hand, look at the kinds of drowsy driving accidents that occur, and attribute many of these crashes and asleep-at-the-wheel events to the problem of sleep apnea.

It is a fascinating instance of a conflict between the rights of truck drivers to make a living unhindered by government, and the rights of all of us not to be crushed under a runaway truck.

About CPAP machines

The treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP machine. CPAP stands continuous positive airway pressure. Users must hook up to the machine before sleeping, and the machine uses mild air pressure to keep the airways open. The result is better sleep quality - though the machine costs money and is considered by many to be a hassle.

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