The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is considering a rule — recommended by its safety advisory committee and medical review board — that would require any driver with a BMI of 35 or higher to be evaluated for apnea. That's a condition in which the air flow pauses or decreases during sleep because the airway is narrowed, blocked or floppy; it repeatedly interrupts sleep, leaving sufferers fatigued.
Commercial truckers are required to pass a medical exam every two years.
"Better health means safer drivers behind the wheel," says FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro. She says the agency is "committed to a rigorous driver medical program that ensures individuals applying for a commercial driver's license are first checked out for a variety of conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and respiratory disorders."
The agency will seek public comment on the proposed high-BMI rule later this year, then decide whether to implement it.
Con-way Freight, a trucking firm headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich., saw 2,500 employees, mostly truckers, lose weight — an average of 13.5 pounds — in its wellness program last year, says President Greg Lehmkuhl. More than 4,200 started exercising, more than 200 quit smoking, and 4,700 reduced their blood pressure.
"Healthy drivers are absolutely safer drivers, safer for themselves and safer for the motoring public," Lehmkuhl says.
They also help the bottom line. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine study found that obese truckers had an annual average total health care cost of $1,944, compared with $1,755 for overweight truckers and $1,131 for normal-weight drivers.
Schneider National, a trucking company based in Green Bay, Wis., implemented a sleep apnea screening and treatment program in 2006-2007 and identified about 350 drivers who required treatment, says Angela Fish, director of compensation and benefits. Over a one-year period, Schneider National saved $530 per month per driver in insurance costs, mostly due to reduced in-hospital stays, Fish says. The company also saw a 71% reduction in accidents involving those drivers over that same period.
Healthy food at truck stops
After hearing from drivers that they wanted more healthy options at TravelCenters of America/Petro's 240 truck stops in 41 states, the company created a StayFit program that offers 14-16 healthy menu items at many restaurants and fresh fruit at 35-50 of its convenience stores, says company spokesman Tom Liutkus. Free exercise rooms, modeled after those at many hotels, are available to drivers at 41 locations.
"At 120 locations, we have walking or jogging trails," Liutkus says. "Drivers can pick up a map, just like the hotel model, and find roads and streets in and around our location."
Scott Grenerth, 42, of Arlington, Ohio, who's been driving a big rig for just over 10 years, is a vegan who carries his food with him in the refrigerator in his truck and seeks out fresh vegetables on the road. Grenerth also takes his eight-speed bicycle and averages a 30-mile ride about three times a week.
Grenerth says he sees more and more truckers taking bikes on the road. "Drivers are really looking at health with a fresh set of eyes and ears," he says.
Losing 73 pounds