'Sleep apnea bill' passes House, Senate

The new hours-of-service (HOS) rules and other regulations make it imperative for fleet owners and managers to ensure drivers aren't on the road for too long a period. The rules also make route optimization software a more useful tool than ever before. HOS has been hotly contested by many people in the industry, who claim it will hurt worker productivity and make it more difficult for drivers to complete routes in a timely manner.

While new rules such as this are often frowned upon by fleet owners and management teams, a new bill recently passed by the House of Representatives and Senate, H.R. 3095, could be welcomed by the transportation industry. This proposed legislation, known by some as the "sleep apnea bill," would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to go through the official rulemaking process, rather than merely issue guidance, should it seek to take action in regard to drivers with sleep apnea or other sleep disorders.

The bill cleared the House of Representatives unanimously in September, a move the American Trucking Associations (ATA) praised.

"We're thrilled the House unanimously passed this important piece of legislation and we hope the Senate will soon follow suit so we can ensure the issue of sleep apnea testing and treatment is resolved through the regular rulemaking rather than hastily issued guidance," said Bill Graves, president of the ATA.

The ATA recently got its wish, as the Senate has approved the bill, which means it will now head to President Barack Obama to be signed.

While it may appear small, the move has been widely applauded by industry groups as a strong step forward for the transportation industry and one that won't put too much of a burden on carriers unexpectedly. Its cost savings components have also been praised by the ATA.

"This is not an insignificant step," said Graves. "There are more than 3 million professional truck drivers and the cost of screening, diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea could easily exceed $1 billion annually. Taking a step as potentially costly as that shouldn't be undertaken lightly and outside of the normal processes."

While carriers will not have to take action on sleep apnea unless the FMCSA goes through the proper rulemaking process, they're still taking their own precautions when it comes to making sure drivers get enough sleep. By using routing and scheduling optimization software, drivers can meet or exceed business goals and still ensure they have enough time in the day to rest.