WASHINGTON — Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has introduced legislation Booker said would protect commuters, rail operators and commercial truck drivers from the “dangers” of sleep apnea.
The legislation, which is cosponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and introduced in the House by Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., and Albio Sires, D-N.J., would require the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to implement the proposed rule mandating sleep apnea testing and treatment for rail operators and commercial truck drivers that was reversed by the Trump Administration last month.
The proposed rulemaking on sleep apnea would have set standards for sleep apnea testing for both commercial truck drivers and railroad engineers.
The lawmakers noted the announcement comes on the heels of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) findings confirming the engineer involved in the deadly 2016 Hoboken, New Jersey, train crash was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea after the incident but not tested during an examination two months prior.
“The recent findings released by NTSB on the Hoboken and LIRR crashes underscore just how shortsighted and reckless the Trump administration’s recent decision was to reverse the rule requiring sleep apnea testing and treatment,” said Booker, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate subcommittee overseeing America's rail infrastructure. “We simply cannot stand idly by and wait for the next tragic incident. It’s imperative that we take immediate steps to strengthen rail safety standards, and sleep apnea testing is a common-sense safety measure that could prevent crashes and save lives. I’m proud to stand with Senator Schumer and my colleagues in the House and Senate in introducing legislation to protect operators and commuters from another preventable tragedy by expanding sleep apnea testing and treatment requirements.”
“Whether on the roads or the rails, the safety of the traveling public must be our highest transportation priority,” said Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate’s mass transit subcommittee. “I’m disappointed that the administration chose to put the traveling public at risk by ignoring the threat sleep apnea poses. This legislation would address that failure and implement this commonsense public safety policy to protect riders, save lives, and make our rails and roadways safer.”
“While the MTA has rightfully committed to sleep apnea testing, a federal law would force all rail lines—in New York, New Jersey and across the country — to conduct these tests in perpetuity and with clear federal guidelines. Across-the-board sleep apnea testing must be law of the land for train operators and commercial drivers to help ensure us that the tragedies that happened in Brooklyn and in Hoboken will be prevented in the future,” said Schumer.
"Reducing fatigue-related accidents is at the top of the National Transportation Safety Board's most-wanted list of transportation safety improvements, and we now know that fatigue may have been a contributing factor in catastrophic rail accidents in Hoboken and Brooklyn,” said Pascrell. Yet before these findings were made public, President Trump made the shortsighted decision to reverse mandatory testing for sleep apnea. Safety must be our No. 1 priority, for the sake of the men, women, and children who rely on mass transit every day. I will fight to advance our legislation reversing the administration's decision and requiring DOT to implement a common sense mandatory sleep apnea testing rule."
A rule proposed by the Obama administration in March 2016 would have expanded sleep apnea testing and treatment requirements for train operators and commercial truck drivers across the nation. Last month, the Trump administration unexpectedly announced that the rule was withdrawn.
From as early as 2001, the NTSB has recommended that rail operators be tested and treated for sleep disorders like sleep apnea following a series of deadly derailments.
In August, Booker, Schumer, Menendez and Gillibrand pressed Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on DOT’s decision to withdraw the proposed rule to mandate sleep apnea testing on the federal level for rail workers and commercial truck drivers if a symptom is observed. In a letter to Chao, the senators requested the data DOT used to make the decision to withdraw the rule along with DOT’s plan to identify and treat rail operators and truckers suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.