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Sleep apnea tests for truckers, train operators explored by U.S.

In this In this Dec. 1, 2013 file photo, a Metro-North locomotive lies on its side after derailing in the Bronx borough of New York. The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014 that the sleep-deprived engineer nodded off at the controls of the commuter train just before taking a 30 mph curve at 82 mph, causing the derailment that killed four people and injured more than 70. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
In this In this Dec. 1, 2013 file photo, a Metro-North locomotive lies on its side after derailing in the Bronx borough of New York. The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014 that the sleep-deprived engineer nodded off at the controls of the commuter train just before taking a 30 mph curve at 82 mph, causing the derailment that killed four people and injured more than 70. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is taking the first step toward requiring that commercial drivers and railroad workers be tested for a sleep disorder that causes drowsiness and has been linked to fatal wrecks.

Public comment sought

The Transportation Department is seeking public comment in the next 90 days about whether it should mandate sleep tests that had been recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, the DOT announced in a press release Tuesday. It would include drivers of trucks, buses and other commercial vehicles as well as train operators.

“It is imperative for everyone’s safety that commercial motor vehicle drivers and train operators be fully focused and immediately responsive at all times,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “DOT strongly encourages comment from the public on how to best respond to this national health and transportation safety issue.”

Difficulty staying awake

While government agencies have increasingly raised alarms about sleep apnea, tests for it aren’t mandated for highway drivers or rail workers. The disorder is triggered by a halt in breathing during the night, which causes people to repeatedly wake up and disrupts normal sleep patterns, leading to difficulty staying awake during the day and other health hazards.

The NTSB has repeatedly found apnea was at least partially responsible for accidents, such as the Dec. 1, 2013, Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co. derailment in the Bronx that killed four people after the engineer fell asleep.

The possible new regulations are being considered by two agencies under DOT, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration.

Related: Synthetic drug use by U.S. truckers is a growing and deadly problem

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