By Dr. Maria Simbra

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Some say it’s like a ticking time bomb on highways across the country — truck drivers falling asleep behind the wheel.

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Should people with commercial driver’s licenses be screened for sleep apnea?

“For me, it’s no big deal,” one man said. “It’s just going for a yearly check-up, just as I do anyway. So no big deal at all.”

“A lot of truckers can go 14 to 15 hours with no sleep, and it ain’t going to hurt anything,” another man said. “I think it’s ridiculous they’re going to make you do it.”

Currently, each trucking company can screen as it sees fit.

“There aren’t really any guidelines by the federal government right now for screening commercial drivers — that is, truckers and rail workers — for sleep apnea,” Allegheny General Hospital sleep specialist Dr. Daniel Shade said.

The federal government was going to come out with screening recommendations.

“In August, the Department of Transportation decided to rescind that statement,” Shade said. “In other words, they’re not coming up with any formal guidelines.”

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Shade finds this alarming.

“People who are sleep deprived are seven times more likely to have a motor vehicle crash,” he said. “We do know that if you’ve been awake for 24 hours, regardless of the cause, that you’re functioning like a blood alcohol level of .1, which is legally drunk … I think there needs to be a standard.”

Of course, screening and treatment cost time and money, and drivers might be taken offline to be treated appropriately if they do have sleep apnea, but it doesn’t mean they can’t continue this line of work.

“Just because you have the diagnosis of sleep apnea, that does not mean you can’t perform your job,” Shade said. “We have pilots. The FAA has very strict guidelines. But certainly pilots can continue to fly with sleep apnea, as long as they’re treated and compliant.”

Some drivers who share the road with truckers think mandatory screenings would be worth it.

“If you’ve got a truck driver out there who suffers from it, God only knows what will happen when he’s on the road,” one man said.

“If a truck driver isn’t sleeping well, that’s dangerous for him, that’s dangerous for everyone on the road with him,” another said. “I’m on the highways a lot and I’m afraid.”

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KDKA did place several calls to the local Teamsters Union for comment. Our calls were not returned.