Commercial Drivers Regularly Fail to Disclose Dangerous Medical Conditions

Self-Reporting Must Be Ended

An 18-wheeler driver was killed when he plowed into a strip mall and his cataract surgery was cited as a possible cause of the accident.

A tractor-trailer driver ran out of his blood pressure and diabetes medication blacked out, and rammed into a tour bus, killing two passengers.

Greyhound bus wreck that injured this woman and 34 other passengers after the driver blacked out and rolled the bus over an embankment. Investigators discovered the driver had sleep apnea, a condition he didn’t disclose on his application.

A bus collided with a pickup truck, killing the driver. The bus driver also didn’t report his sleep apnea and had also stopped using a machine that would have kept the condition under control.

There are thousands of other crashes like this every year involving commercial vehicles like 18 wheelers.

These nightmarish stories highlight the ineffectiveness of the current commercial driver self-reporting system. The inadequate process fails to identify drivers who have dangerous medical conditions. Often, the driver’s condition is only discovered once he has caused a crash.

How the Self-Reporting System Works

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations require truck and bus drivers to fill out a questionnaire and be examined by a DOT certified professional. The driver then submits the medical examiner certificate, referred to as a medical card, to the state licensing board.

On its face, this sounds like a great idea. A physician examines the commercial driver for medical problems that could impair driving ability. Presumably the driver would then seek appropriate medical treatments or refrain from driving if unsafe to do so.

But the FMSCA’s self-certification system is seriously flawed. A driver whose medical condition renders him unsafe may reasonably fear that he will be deprived of his livelihood. Instead of taking that chance, many unfit drivers cheat, and the FMSCA process makes cheating ridiculously easy. The driver can simply neglect to check off the medical condition on his form. He may also see a chiropractor rather than an MD for his examination.

Exemptions for Drivers with Known Medical Problems

Even when drivers are honest enough to disclose dangerous medical conditions, the FMSCA often grants exemptions that allow drivers to continue working. Between 2013 and 2014, the agency granted close to 2,400 exemptions for such conditions as seizures, diabetes, vision loss and hearing impairment.

If that scares you, it should.

Experts blame the shortage of commercial drivers for the increase in exemptions. Lowering the standards is NOT the right way to fill these jobs. Instead, employers should consider creating better working conditions, including proper medical care and fewer driving hours. Better working conditions would directly translate into safer roadway conditions for all of us.

Clearly, a driver should not be able to declare his fitness to drive. The FMCSA needs to replace self-certification and stop exempting drivers who have dangerous medical conditions.



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