In the midst of Washington's gridlock over funding the government, President Obama on Tuesday signed legislation mandating that any effort by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration pushing trucking companies to screen, test or treat drivers for sleep disorders be done through a formal rulemaking rather than by issuing guidance.
The agency originally said it would issue medical guidance to deal with the safety issue. Motor carriers typically feel obligated to follow guidance even though it doesn't carry the same weight as a rule.
Congress and the president created the law even after the agency last month reversed itself and said it would go through the rulemaking process.
The American Trucking Associations has argued that testing for sleep apnea and other disorders could cost the industry $1 billion and therefore requires the rigor of a rulemaking that includes hard data from the latest research and a cost-benefit analysis.
Trucking companies are also worried about potential liability issues from not hiring drivers determined to have a sleep disorder, Annette Sandberg, a former FMCSA administrator who heads her own truck safety consulting firm, said at the FTR Associates' transportation conference in Indianapolis last month.
"It puts them in a tough spot when it comes to EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) because drivers will claim their rights were violated," she said.