Obama Signs Bill for DOT to Use Rulemaking Process to Require Driver Sleep Apnea Tests

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By Michael Rose

Oct. 18 -- President Barack Obama has signed into law a bill requiring the Transportation Department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to use a formal rulemaking process if it wishes to require sleep apnea testing for commercial truck drivers.

Obama signed the measure (H.R. 3095) Oct. 15. It was passed by the House under suspension of the rules Sept. 26 by a vote of 405-0, and the Senate passed the measure on a unanimous consent request Oct. 4. The bill was supported by the American Trucking Associations and other industry groups, as well as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

“This law, which passed the House with a unanimous vote, protects millions of working men and women who turn a key for a living from being forced to spend money on a test they may not need at the whim of a federal agency,” Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said in an Oct. 18 statement. “The FMCSA will now have to address this through the formal regulatory process and all the public to have a voice in the process.”

Rulemaking, Not Guidance
According to the Teamsters statement, as well as a previous statement from ATA, the bill was intended to prevent FMCSA from requiring testing for sleep apnea through an agency “guidance” rather than a formal regulation, since a guidance can be issued without soliciting public comment. By contrast, the formal rulemaking process provides for a comment period.

In a statement issued Sept. 19, upon approval of the bill by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, ATA President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Graves said his organization was concerned about the cost of sleep apnea testing.

“ATA believes that testing alone for obstructive sleep apnea of truck drivers could cost the industry nearly $1 billion,” Graves said. “If our industry is to be burdened with such a cost, then the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration owes it to trucking to conduct a full and thorough rulemaking, including collection of scientific data and a cost-benefit analysis.”

The bill was sponsored in the House by Reps. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) and Dale Lipinski (D-Ill.) and in the Senate by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

“While this issue has been a major one for the truck and bus industry, with the potential to result in expensive and damaging litigation, H.R. 3095 has always been about improving safety by following the formal rulemaking process and including input from the major stakeholders,” Lipinski said in an Oct. 16 statement. “I am proud to have worked with my colleagues from across the aisle in sponsoring this legislation, moving it through Congress and passing it into law. This is how Washington should work.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Rose in Washington at mrose@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com