The Trump administration is halting a year-old effort to seek better ways to diagnose truckers and railroad workers who have sleep apnea, a health condition linked to deadly accidents.
Two agencies in the Department of Transportation announced Friday that they will no longer pursue a regulation to combat obstructive sleep apnea, which prevents people from getting decent rest and has led to drivers nodding off behind the wheel. The federal government was considering screening truck drivers and train engineers for the disorder.
“The agencies have determined not to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking at this time and believe that current safety programs” and other rules “addressing fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address” the issue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration said in a statement.
The action is the latest case of President Donald Trump’s anti-regulatory policies prompting agencies to halt proposals or block rules from taking effect. The president argues that government regulations are bad for business and stifle hiring.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has been calling for better screening of truck drivers and railroad engineers since 2009. The agency is “disappointed” that the agencies withdrew the “much-needed” development of new rules, spokesman Christopher O’Neil said in an email.
It “has been in the probable cause of 10 highway and rail accidents investigated by the NTSB in the past 17 years and obstructive sleep apnea is an issue being examined in several, ongoing, NTSB rail and highway investigations,” he said.
In many accidents it has investigated, it was only afterward that operators were found to have suffered from the disorder. NTSB urged agencies to do more to identify transportation workers at risk so they could be treated.
On March 10, 2016, the trucking and rail agencies took the first step before drafting regulations on detecting apnea. They sought public comments on the prevalence of the disorder and whether transportation workers should receive mandatory screening for it.
Apnea occurs when breathing passages are blocked during sleep, causing people to gasp for breath during the night. Even brief such episodes that people don’t notice can disrupt normal sleep patterns and trigger fatigue and the need to sleep during the day.
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