Booker, Schumer, Menendez, Gillibrand Press U.S. DOT Secretary Chao on Rollback of Sleep Apnea Rule
Senators request data used to make sudden decision to withdraw sleep apnea rule along with DOT’s plan to identify and treat operators suffering from obstructive sleep apnea
In call for DOT to reverse decision, senators cite deadly Hoboken derailment where engineer was found to suffer from undiagnosed sleep apnea
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) pressed U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao on DOT’s decision to withdraw the proposed rule to mandate sleep apnea testing on the federal level for rail workers and commercial truck drivers if a symptom is observed. In a letter to Secretary Chao, the senators requested the data DOT used to make the decision to withdraw the rule along with DOT’s plan to identify and treat rail operators and truckers suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.
“We strongly believe that DOT should immediately reconsider the decision in order to help avoid future fatigue-related tragedies,” the senators wrote. “Due to our serious concern over this decision to vacate this potentially life-saving 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.”
A rule proposed by the Obama Administration in March 2016 would have expanded sleep apnea testing and treatment requirements for train operators and commercial truck drivers across the nation. Earlier this month, the Trump Administration unexpectedly announced that the rule was withdrawn. From as early as 2001, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that rail operators be tested and treated for sleep disorders like sleep apnea following a series of deadly derailments.
Obstructive sleep apnea has been the probable cause in a significant number of rail and highway accidents throughout the region, including the 2013 Metro-North derailment in New York that tragically resulted in four fatalities and more than sixty injuries. Following the deadly 2016 derailment in Hoboken, NJ that killed one person and injured more than 100, the NJ Transit engineer operating the train was found to suffer from undiagnosed sleep apnea. The National Transportation Safety Board is currently working to conclude their investigation of that incident.
The full text of the letter is as follows:
August 21, 2017
The Honorable Elaine Chao
United States Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, 20590
Dear Secretary Chao:
We write to express our serious concerns regarding the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) decision to withdraw the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) joint rulemaking entitled “Evaluation of Safety Sensitive Personnel for Moderate-to-Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea.”
As you know, obstructive sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that interrupts a person’s breathing while asleep, causing repeated awakening and subsequent severe fatigue. While the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has linked obstructive sleep apnea to a number of recent truck and rail accidents killing dozens of individuals, our region, in particular, has been devastated in recent years by rail accidents with links to sleep apnea.
The December 2013 Metro-North Railroad Derailment in New York was determined to have been caused by obstructive sleep apnea’s impact on the conductor and resulted in four deaths and over 60 injuries. In 2014, NTSB released its report on the derailment and faulted both Metro-North for not screening for sleep disorder and the FRA for not requiring the railroads to perform these evaluations. Currently, the NTSB is working to conclude its investigation of the September 2016 Hoboken NJ Transit crash that killed one person and injured over 100 others. The NJ Transit train engineer was found to suffer from undiagnosed sleep apnea, which is likely to have contributed to his inability to slow the train into the Hoboken station prior to the crash.
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 NTSB, whose mission is to advance transportation safety, has strongly supported this rulemaking and for over a decade, after a 2001 accident in Michigan, has recommended the FRA require all railroads to screen for and treat sleep apnea. We strongly believe that DOT should immediately reconsider the decision in order to help avoid future fatigue-related tragedies. Due to our serious concern over this decision to vacate this potentially life-saving 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.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this critical issue, and we look forward to begin working with you to improve safety throughout our nation’s transportation systems.