As part of a wider effort to cut down on regulations seen as unfriendly to the business community, the Trump administration has withdrawn a proposal that would require trucking and railroad companies to screen employees for obstructive sleep apnea.
The decision, announced late last week by the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, effectively kills an Obama-era proposal to test transit employees involved in "safety sensitive work" for the sleep condition. In a statement, the two Department of Transportation agencies encouraged trucking and railroad companies to screen those employees, but said that such tests would not be mandatory.
According to the National Institute of Health, sleep apnea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness, is increasingly common in adults, and often goes undiagnosed. The disorder has attracted public attention in recent years, the Atlantic's James Hamblin notes, due to a series of high profile crashes linked to chronic fatigue.
Following a NJ Transit crash in Hoboken that left one dead and 100 injured last September, the train's engineer cited undiagnosed severe sleep apnea as a cause of the crash. The engineer, who'd operated trains since 2000, had no medical episodes, criminal history, or other infractions on his record prior to the incident. Afterward, he noted that he had no recollection of the crash.
Prior to that, the operating engineer of a Metro-North train that derailed in the Bronx in 2013 was also diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. He claimed to to be "in a daze" and "almost hypnotized" in the moments leading up to the crash that left four people dead and more than 60 injured.
"They can't do the simple things like protect the people they are carrying and protect their workers," Nancy Montgomery, whose husband was killed in the 2013 crash, told NBC. "It's the little guy that's getting killed. They've just taken away the test that could have saved my husband's life."
Several sleep experts have also condemned last week's decision, including the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. In a statement to Bloomberg, a spokesperson said the agency was "disappointed" that the "much-needed" screening proposal had been withdrawn.