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December 20, 2010 1:45 AM, EST

State Trucking Units Focus on Driver Fatigue, Apnea

By Michele Fuetsch, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Dec. 20 & 27 print edition of Transport Topics.

Alert to safety issues surrounding driver fatigue and sleep apnea, trucking associations across the country are partnering with, endorsing or seeking vendors to provide their member fleets with testing, training and treatment programs on sleep apnea.

State trucking associations are tackling apnea in anticipation that federal regulators will require mandatory driver testing for the disorder, which causes airway constriction, interrupts sleep and leaves sufferers fatigued during their work hours.

“We know that, eventually, [the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration] is going to come out with rules,” said Kendra Adams, executive director of the New York State Motor Truck Association. “Nobody can say for sure when that’s going to happen, but we all know it’s coming down the pike.”

Trucking associations in Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee recently endorsed a provider — Sleep Access, Nashville, Tenn.

“I think from our executive committee’s standpoint,” said David Huneryager, president of the Tennessee Trucking Association, “they just wanted us to have something we could offer our members to deal with this issue when and if there was a rule that came down that mandated [testing].”

Sleep Access worked for more than two years with the Tennessee association to develop an apnea testing and treatment program that would meet the needs of carriers looking to promote driver fitness, Huneryager said.

Elsewhere, the Nevada Motor Transport Association is completing an agreement with a vendor the association will recommend to members looking for help with apnea issues.

“What we want to do,” said Paul Enos, CEO of the Nevada group, “is find a program that we can work with and inform our members, ‘Hey, just like we do with drug testing, or just like we do with workers’ comp insurance, you have an issue with sleep apnea; here’s who you should talk to.’ ”

To heighten members’ awareness of apnea, the association’s safety director, Joe McCallum, is going through apnea testing himself, Enos said.

McCallum will write a series of newsletter articles about the experience in order to inform carriers about the diagnosis process and about treatment programs for drivers who test positive, Enos said.

The New York trucking group currently is interviewing vendors it may hire to give seminars on apnea or recommend to companies interested in testing their drivers for the sleep disorder and managing their care.

Associations are not endorsing sleep-disorder specialists in order to make money on a vendor contract, Tennessee’s Huneryager and other trucking leaders said.

The associations want to “enhance the value” of their memberships and recommend providers that will help carriers meet safety requirements.

A large body of scientific evidence has been presented to FMCSA rule makers showing that truckers have a high incidence of sleep apnea.

Last year, a team of researchers hired by FMCSA did a study that found as many as 3.9 million of the nation’s 14 million commercial drivers may suffer from apnea.

The research team also concluded obesity is a strong predictor of which drivers suffer from the sleep disorder — a finding with which FMCSA’s medical review board already was struggling.

In 2008, the board recommended mandating apnea screening for commercial drivers with a body mass index of 30 or more. FMCSA has not acted on that recommendation, but within the trucking industry there is a desire to be proactive on the issue, said Rick Todd, president of the South Carolina Trucking Association.

“The liability is huge,” Todd said. “Fleets want healthy drivers for safety purposes and for health cost purposes and productivity.

“You want a healthy work place, but realizing the lifestyle of a truck driver, [carriers] know that there’s . . . a likelihood that a lot of their drivers may have sleep apnea,” he said.

The South Carolina association has not decided yet whether to recommend vendors.

Earlier this year, however, Todd headed a committee that studied vendors that offer sleep apnea awareness training, testing and treatment services to trucking firms.

“We kind of vetted them, we tried to pre-qualify them, tried to find out about . . . their services, about what they do, the extent to which they provide services and their background and their expertise,” Todd said.

The committee, formed by the Trucking Association Executives Council, published a list of the firms it determined were qualified.

TAEC is made up of the directors of the state affiliates of American Trucking Associations.