U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), on Sept 28 introduced legislation that 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. In the House, the bill was introduced by U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-09) and Albio Sires (NJ-08).
The announcement comes on the heels of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) findings released last week confirming the engineer involved in the deadly 2016 Hoboken 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,” says Booker, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate subcommittee overseeing America’s rail infrastructure, in a release. “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 Sen 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.”
Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate’s mass transit subcommittee, says, “Whether on the roads or the rails, the safety of the traveling public must be our highest transportation priority. 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.”
Schumer says, “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.”
Pascrell says, “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. Yet before these findings were made public, President Trump made the shortsighted decision to reverse mandatory testing for sleep apnea. Safety must be our number-one 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.”
Sires says, “Last year’s accident in Hoboken, which took 1 life and injured over 100 commuters, involved a New Jersey Transit train operated by an engineer with undiagnosed sleep apnea,” says Sires. “The public’s safety is one of government’s highest priorities and we have a duty to prevent this from happening again. That is why it is necessary to expand sleep apnea testing and treatment for the men and women who are entrusted with commuters’ lives. The Trump Administration’s disappointing decision to withdraw the rule to expand sleep apnea testing and treatment is shortsighted and irresponsible, and this legislation to continue the rulemaking process is a necessary step towards preventing this catastrophe from happening again.”
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 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, Senators Booker, Schumer, Menendez, and Gillibrand pressed U.S. DOT 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 Secretary 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.
In January, Senators Booker, Schumer, Menendez, and Gillibrand called upon the NTSB to conduct a comprehensive review of all passenger railroads’ implementation of sleep apnea testing and inward facing cameras following the Hoboken and LIRR crashes.
Last November, Senators Booker, Schumer, and Menendez called on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to implement safety measures that would prevent rail accidents related to health factors like sleep apnea following reports that sleep apnea may have contributed to the deadly Hoboken crash.
In 2014, Booker was joined by colleagues in introducing an amendment to a Senate Appropriations bill that would protect important safety rules governing rest periods and hours of service truck drivers may work each week. Specifically, the amendment would prevent a dangerous increase in the number of hours drivers may operate each week and would ensure drivers get much-needed rest time.