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3/12/2012 8:10:00 AM Write a Letter to the Editor Write a letter to the Editor

FMCSA Wants Equipment in Sleeper Cabs to Treat Apnea; Trucking Sees Problems

By Jonathan S. Reiskin, Associate News Editor

This story appears in the March 12 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

TAMPA, Fla. — The federal government is eager to promote more use of assisted-breathing machines by truck drivers beset with sleep apnea, although fleet and vendor executives said there are problems with using the machines in tractor sleeper berths.

Jack Van Steenburg, chief safety officer of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told maintenance directors meeting here that the agency is pursuing two rules related to sleep apnea: The first, which is coming soon, addresses the registration of medical personnel who examine truck drivers. The other would provide guidelines on how to deal with sleep apnea, including a possible mandate that drivers diagnosed with the condition would have to use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, which keep the user’s airway open during sleep.

Van Steenburg spoke on Feb. 22 at the Technology & Maintenance Council’s annual meeting. He said the medical examiner rule has been sent by FMCSA to the Office of Management and Budget and should be published this year. The apnea rule has been sent to FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro but probably will not take effect until 2013 or 2014, Van Steenburg said.

Sleep apnea is a condition where the tongue and soft palate relax when a person sleeps. They can collapse and obstruct breathing, causing a person to wake up so often that he or she is not refreshed by sleep. CPAP machines keep nasal passages open with a constant stream of air, allowing lengthy, uninterrupted sleep. Older people and the overweight are more likely to suffer from the condition.

Panel moderator Will Watson, an industry consultant and CPAP user, lauded the machines, saying they enable him to get better rest for improved functioning. However, others on the panel said there are engineering problems associated with using the machines in sleeper berths.

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