Others’ opinion: Sleep disorders among truckers a cause for concern

Published 7:40 am Friday, August 11, 2017

The Star-Ledger of Newark, NJ:

Shortly after taking office, President Trump signed an executive order creating task forces in every agency to eliminate “burdensome” regulations.

“Every regulation should have to pass a simple test,” he said. “Does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers?”

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Keep that standard in mind as you consider his gutting of federal protections for our clean drinking water, attempt to eliminate the agency charged with preventing chemical accidents, and now, killing of a “burdensome” rule that truckers and train drivers be tested for a dangerous sleep disorder.

Sleep apnea can cause spontaneous nodding-off, even at the wheel. The symptoms are similar to narcolepsy.

In light of horrific accidents like the one in Hoboken last year — in which a train slammed into the end of a track barrier too fast, killing a woman and injuring dozens more, and its engineer was later found to have this undiagnosed disorder – the Obama administration thought it would be a good idea to test drivers of large machinery for it.

After all, it wasn’t the first such tragedy. The man at the controls of a Metro-North commuter train in New York that crashed at high speed in 2013, killing four, was also later diagnosed with sleep apnea. In fact, sleep apnea was the probable cause of 10 highway and rail accidents the National Transportation Safety Board investigated over the past 17 years, and is an issue in a number of ongoing investigations.

Metro-North in the New York City suburbs, which now does testing, found that 11.6 percent of its engineers have sleep apnea.

Federal regulators were approaching the final stages of imposing mandatory testing. But now the Trump administration has killed that effort. Testing will remain optional. So rest easy, commuters.

Trump is also backing off another federal effort to require speed limiters in the trucking industry. Why?

Because he says regulations are bad for business and hiring. But think about his alternative: To save the hassle of screening drivers for sleep apnea or limiting the ability of truckers to speed, we are all going to pay the vastly larger price – in lives and twisted metal – of the ensuing accidents.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that many of the members of Trump’s task forces dismantling these regulations have deep ties to industry. Others, his administration refuses to even name. Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to the White House on Monday, demanding that it release the names of its rule-busters and their potential conflicts of interest.

So far, 85 are known, including 34 with potential conflicts, according to an investigation by the New York Times and ProPublica. At least two may profit if certain regulations are dismantled, and at least four were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

Yet we’re supposed to trust that they have our best interests at heart – that Trump, and not the consumer and health advocacy groups pushing for these government regulations, is making our lives “better” and “safer.”

—Courtesy of the Associated Press