What You Need to Know about the Withdrawn DOT Rule

By Anna Kleiner | 09/08/2017

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently withdrew a rule in progress regarding obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and workers in safety-sensitive roles in transportation. The rule would have set specific requirements for evaluating transportation workers who are at risk of moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. Since then, there’s been a lot of discussion about the rule and what it means. Here’s what you need to know.

What was the new FMCSA rule about?

The proposed rule, the Evaluation of Safety-Sensitive Personnel for Moderate-to-Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) was intended to standardize how medical examiners evaluated OSA in safety-sensitive positions like commercial truck driving. It would have told medical examiners exactly who, when, and how commercial drivers would have been screened and tested for sleep apnea. In other words, the new rule would have given them a specific guide to follow. When and who to screen would no longer be up to an individual examiner's judgement as it is now.

Why was the FMCSA rule withdrawn?

The reason stated publicly by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) was that they did not have enough information to support moving forward.

This doesn’t mean that medical examiners can’t screen for sleep apnea.

Some of the coverage around FMCSA withdrawing the rule has been confusing. Many people have taken the withdrawal to mean that evaluating for obstructive sleep apnea is no longer allowed, which has brought its own set of concerns. However, no regulation has been passed—or proposed—that requires medical examiners not to consider sleep apnea during an evaluation.

It also doesn’t change how DOT physical exams are performed.

As with most medical conditions, it’s up to qualified medical examiners to use their clinical judgment on an individual basis, guided by the recommendations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. If a medical examiner believes OSA to be a risk, it can be taken into consideration when renewing a commercial driver’s medical card. In recent FMCSA-sponsored calls, FMCSA representatives have stated that even though the proposed rule has been withdrawn, medical examiners should continue to use the 2016 sleep apnea recommendations.

What does this mean for employers and commercial drivers?

Nothing has changed. If you’re currently partnered with Concentra, our medical examiners will continue to screen for obstructive sleep apnea in DOT physicals, per our internal medical guidelines and the recommendations of the FMCSA.