ATA: Renewed attention on sleep apnea research presents opportunity

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The re-release of a study completed by the American Transportation Research Institute in 2002 on sleep apnea in the trucking industry provides a great opportunity for government and industry to tout all that has been done to improve commercial driver health and wellness since the study’s original release, says Rebecca Brewster, ATRI president and chief operating officer.

“The goal of all ATRI research studies is to provide the science on which critical industry safety and productivity decisions should be made,” says Brewster, commenting on an ATRI study released in 2002 and widely reported on Tuesday, Aug. 15. “The sleep apnea study done in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania highlighted the need for more education on sleep apnea, and both industry and government acted on those findings in a very aggressive way.”

The study, being reported in the August 2006 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that sleep apnea was an issue in the industry, albeit at levels much lower than previous studies had found. The study was funded through a cooperative agreement between the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and ATRI. Following its release in 2002, ATRI revamped its long-standing fatigue management training course to include the latest findings on the size and scope of the sleep apnea issue. ATRI’s Gettin in Gear driver wellness training was also updated to include the latest on the importance of proper sleep hygiene.

“The industry has taken a very proactive position on driver wellness, and we know that many of our member firms used the ATRI findings to update their individual health and wellness programs,” says Dave Osiecki, ATA vice president for safety, security and operations. Osiecki also cited steps by FMCSA to initiate major changes in its commercial driver medical qualification oversight program — steps that ATA supports.

Additionally, changes made in 2004 to the federal rules increased the minimum number of rest hours between driving shifts by 25 percent. As a result, FMCSA recently reported that, on average, truck drivers are obtaining more daily sleep as a result of the new minimum rest period.