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Lawmakers question DOT decision to withdraw obstructive sleep apnea rulemaking

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Washington – Four senators are asking Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao for the data and information her department used in its decision to withdraw a proposed rule on obstructive sleep apnea.

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to Chao on Aug. 21, conveying their “serious concern” regarding the decision.

In the letter, the senators highlight two high-profile railway incidents in their states that resulted in five deaths and more than 160 injuries. In both cases, personnel had obstructive sleep apnea or undiagnosed sleep apnea. The lawmakers also note that the National Transportation Safety Board has linked OSA to a “number of recent truck and rail accidents killing dozens of individuals.”

“We strongly believe that DOT should immediately reconsider the decision in order to help avoid future fatigue-related tragedies,” the letter states. “Due to our serious concern over this decision to vacate this potentially lifesaving rule, please provide our offices all data and information used to make the decision to withdraw the rule, and DOT’s plan to identify and treat operators suffering from obstructive sleep apnea before more fatal tragedies take place.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration issued a joint advance notice of proposed rulemaking in March 2016, and sought to gather information on moderate to severe sleep apnea among safety-sensitive workers in highway and rail transportation.

Sleep apnea affects about 22 million people in the United States, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association, and 80 percent of moderate to severe OSA cases are undiagnosed. OSA is caused when the airway is blocked and normal breathing is interrupted. It can lead to increased drowsiness when awake, causing transportation operators to be less alert and reactive.

“The 2016 proposed rule consisted of a modest, common-sense approach to combating fatigue on our roads and rails: Require testing for obstructive sleep apnea if a problematic symptom is observed,” the letter from the senators states.

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