Just hours after the 2013 government shutdown ended last week, President Barack Obama signed into law a succinct sleep apnea bill. While only three sentences in length, the bill sets forth legislation which has been desired by all those invested in and employed by the trucking industry. In the past, the issues of sleep apnea impacting the safety of fleet operators have only been addressed by regulatory guidance. However, after unanimously passing through both the House of Representatives and Senate, it is now law that:
"a requirement providing for the screening, testing, or treatment (including consideration of all possible treatment alternatives) of individuals operating commercial motor vehicles for sleep disorders only if the requirement is adopted pursuant to a rule-making proceeding."
This piece of legislation (Public Law #113-45) is so highly touted throughout the industry because it requires that the FMCSA must execute a full cost-benefit and regulatory impact analysis before setting policy regarding sleep apnea as opposed to the loosely adhered to 'guidance'.
Prior to this bill being signed into law, the FMCSA could set policy without taking into account the high costs to the industry (estimated to be greater than $1 billion) – which would most likely fall on the shoulders of the safer fleets controlled by small businesses. Now, with the law passed, Todd Spencer of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has thanked Representatives Bucshon and Lipinski for their efforts and stated that this law "is common sense legislation that has the support of the entire industry." Spencer went on to say that "anything FMCSA does regarding sleep apnea should absolutely consider the costs such a policy will pass on to truckers."
While it was explicitly announced that a rulemaking process will be followed, the FMCSA stated to the press that "Congress should still weigh in by passing legislation and guaranteeing that a transparent and sound process is used."
While this Sleep Apnea bill is important for the costs imposed on the industry and passed through Congress in record time, don't expect the same ease of passage to be seen next year as the Highway Trust Fund reaches its limit.