Does the new law on DOT physical sleep apnea for truck drivers have you confused? Join the club! Drivers don’t know if they have to get sleep apnea testing, and, if diagnosed, whether they can still drive. There’s a lot of maybes and what-ifs involved in answering these questions, but let’s try to get some facts clear.
For starters, there is no new law on DOT physical sleep apnea for truck drivers. As it stands today, the U.S. Department of Transportation, or DOT, does not require sleep apnea testing for truck drivers. However, DOT does require that truck drivers get a medical examination in order to hold a CDL license. The medical examiner is the one who decides if the driver needs sleep apnea testing. DOT says that it’s up to your medical examiner whether or not your medical condition will interfere with your driving. If diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea, you are considered unsafe to drive and will lose your CDL until you’re treated for sleep apnea and deemed safe to drive again by your medical examiner.
Essentially, whoever examines you during your CDL physical will determine your sleep apnea status, and therefore, your ability to safely drive. That seems pretty straightforward, right? So, why all of the confusion?
Lack of a New Law on DOT Physical Sleep Apnea Arouses Confusion
The confusion stems from the fact that government officials can’t make up their minds.
Last year DOT planned to pass a new law on DOT physical sleep apnea that would require sleep apnea testing for drivers. Medical examiners, carrier employers, and drivers hoped that a new law would give the industry more direction, as there’s confusion on exactly what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to drivers with sleep apnea. However, that law never passed. President Donald Trump reduced regulations across industries once he was elected. As a result, government officials scrapped the proposed law. This change of plans triggered a debate across the trucking industry on whether required testing truck drivers for sleep apnea is good or bad. Some feel that the government should regulate truck drivers with sleep apnea. Others feel it is unnecessary and invasive. No one knows what they’re actually supposed to do about sleep apnea.
Common Questions on the Non-Existent New Law on DOT Physical Sleep Apnea
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder where a person’s breathing stops and starts while they are sleeping. This affects the quality of sleep they get. Sleep apnea can affect all age groups, ethnicities, and sexes. There are several factors that place people at a higher risk of sleep apnea such as being overweight, smoking or alcohol use, and a family history of sleep apnea. The issue with driving and sleep apnea is that several studies suggest it is unsafe. People with untreated sleep apnea are at risk of falling asleep or being slow to respond. In recent years, many accidents have occurred in the transportation industry as a result of someone driving with untreated sleep apnea.
Do I need sleep apnea testing to drive truck?
If you meet a certain criterion you may need sleep apnea testing. For example, medical examiners typically test drivers for sleep apnea who have a higher Body Mass Index. The drivers will go through testing and, if diagnosed, must accept treatment, before they can receive their CDL.
If I have sleep apnea, can I still get my CDL?
Yes! You can still drive with sleep apnea as long as you are managing your condition. If your medical examiner confirms that you’re managing your sleep apnea and it won’t interfere with your ability to drive safely, you’re good to hit the road. If you do not manage your sleep apnea, then there’s a chance your CDL will be denied until your condition is under control. Keep in mind that state laws vary. Check out what your local Department of Motor Vehicles has to say about sleep apnea regulations in your state.
How does sleep apnea cause trucking accidents?
We’ve talked about what sleep apnea is, but really, how is it causing these accidents. Sleep apnea affects your ability to stay is restorative sleep. Basically, restorative sleep is why we don’t feel so groggy or lethargic after a good night’s sleep. Just because a trucker might be in bed with his or her eyes closed for a solid eight hours, does not mean that they’re actually getting a good night’s sleep. In fact, if you’re suffering from sleep apnea, your body and mind will feel like it only got two or three hours of sleep.
This leads to the obvious cause of accidents – sleep deprivation. Your body and mind just don’t function properly when you’re lacking sleep. Your reflexes will slow and your ability to keep your eyes open becomes harder and harder with each passing minute. Accidents usually happen after a drive nods off at the wheel or fails to maneuver their rig in time.
BMI and sleep apnea correlation
Another thing that we do know is that sleep apnea directly correlates with a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI). Statistics and studies show that the higher your BMI is, the more likely you are to have sleep apnea.
Will I lose my CDL if I test positive for sleep apnea?
If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea, your ability to maintain your CDL could change. The government puts temporary holds on CDLs when drivers are diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea. Your CDL will be returned to you once a medical examiner says you are managing your condition. More frequent examinations may happen in order to keep your CDL active. This is to ensure that your health is monitored for safety.
Do I have to use my CPAP machine?
If you have a CPAP machine to treat your sleep apnea, you have to use it to keep your CDL. Medical examiners won’t sign off that you can drive a truck safely until they are sure that you are using your CPAP and treating your sleep apnea.