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New National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners: Another step in stopping truck accidents and identifying drivers with dangerous medical conditions

December 6, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

600,000 truck drivers medically unfit to drive on our roads today

National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners

Before a truck driver can operate a commercial motor vehicle, he or she must be medically certified as physically qualified to do so under § 391.41 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

Yet many truck drivers with serious medical conditions that impair their ability to drive safely are cleared to get behind the wheel every day.

This happens because the system as it currently exists is broken. Certain truck drivers have learned to scam the system, and find the “go-to” doctors who will almost always  give them a clean bill of health so they’re cleared to drive. That way, they meet the federal and state safety standards to be medically qualified  to operate big commercial motor vehicles.

Not only is the system broken, but there are real consequences. There are far too many people dying and being seriously injured in truck accidents caused by drivers who are medically unfit to drive. In fact, there are nearly 600,000 commercial truck drivers with dangerous medical conditions — so dangerous that they qualify for full federal disability payments — currently driving commercial trucks on the roads today, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study from 2010.

Think of a circle. The truckers know who to go see so they can be cleared to drive a big tractor trailer, and the doctors clear them so the truck drivers will keep seeing them. And the trucking companies knowingly hire truck drivers with dangerous medical conditions like sleep apnea, epilepsy and heart conditions because they know they will be cleared.

Except when they kill innocent people.

Which is exactly why we have the requirement that people driving 80,000 pound moving brick walls be medically certified as physically qualified to drive to start.

New Registry of Certified Medical Examiners will standardize testing and medical examiners for truck drivers

But it’s looking like this dangerous practice may be curbed, thanks to a new federal program called the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. The program will standardize fitness testing for trucker drivers, and specify which medical examiners are qualified to perform examinations.

It’s in place to ensure the highest level of integrity and scrutiny in the truck driver medical screening process — and to better regulate it.

There were previous long-standing problems with § 391.41  because there was no standardization among medical professionals.

But the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners seeks to remedy this problem by requiring commercial drivers be screened by trained, certified and licensed health care providers using consistent nation-wide criteria to determine the truck driver’s health and fitness. The new program mandates that all doctors performing physical examinations for drivers of interstate commercial motor vehicles (typically large semi-truck or commercial buses) are to be trained and certified in FMCSA physical qualification standards.

One of those standards involves special screening for sleep apnea.  Trucker fatigue, most stemming from sleep apnea and obesity, is one of the most common causes of fatal semi-truck accidents.

As a lawyer who has had to help the grieving families of people killed by medically unfit truck drivers, it’s imperative that truckers who are in danger of losing control of a semi-truck on the roads because of medical conditions be effectively identified.

As a former president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Lawyer Group, and who has devoted many hours to improving truck safety, this is an important new development.  It is being passed down from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners will be a critical tool in ensuring that new drivers will not pose a threat to innocent motorists around them.

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