The move has caused quite an uproar, however, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., demanding that the government get the national sleep apnea testing plan back on track.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18,000 million American adults have sleep apnea, which increases the risk of "drowsy" driving.
Schumer said that if the United States does not implement proactive testing and screening initiatives at a national level, deadly derailments and big-rig accidents will continue happening across the nation, resulting in injuries and lost lives.
Between Jan. 1, 2001 and Dec. 31, 3012, nearly 20 percent of the 182 major investigations carried out by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) identified fatigue as a probable cause, contributing factor, or a finding, the NTSB said.
“We don’t want train engineers with undiagnosed sleep apnea, who actually hold lives in their hands, to fall asleep at the switch and we don’t want big-rig drivers to doze off at the wheel,” Schumer said. “That’s why NTSB’s recommendations to get this done should be the law of the land and why I have pushed so hard on this subject for years.”
Commenting on Schumer’s stance, Aeroflow Industrial Manager Michael Trufant said the senator “is spot-on about how easy the conclusion should be to reinstate the rulemaking process when looking at the facts about sleep apnea. This is a clear and present danger on our roads, rails and highways. Our traveling public should not be exposed to danger on their commutes.
“So far, the arguments made against obstructive sleep apnea testing and treatment for rail and truck drivers have focused exclusively on the cost of testing and treatment, not on safety,” Trufant added. “The cost is minimal. The safety imperative is pressing. The National Transportation Safety Board has consistently called for it.
"This is an opportunity to ensure public safety, and without this requirement, we are instead choosing to neglect it," he said.
Overall, fatalities in large truck crashes have increased by 20 percent since 2009, while large truck crash injuries have surged 57 percent over the same time period, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation cited by the group Advocates For Highway & Auto Safety, which also did not support the withdrawal of the rulemaking.
However, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) seems to have taken a softer stance on the withdrawal, arguing against rushing forward with the rulemaking until there is more "solid data to support a rulemaking."
"ATA has supported getting this right, even if that takes a little longer. Data and science matter, and FMCSA, ATA, carriers and drivers have been working to get solid data to support a rulemaking,” ATA Executive Vice President of Advocacy Bill Sullivan said. “Pulling this preliminary advanced notice of proposed rulemaking doesn't change that, and we support the process to better understand and address apnea and fatigue for commercial drivers."
However, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) said there are already regulations in existence that cover sleep apnea and all other respiratory problems.
OOIDA also pointed to 391.41 (b) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which says, “A person is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if that person has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his/her ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely." This is a part of the physical form that all medical examiners complete when doing the routine physical that all drivers are required to go through to obtain or renew their commercial driver’s license.