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Effort to Monitor Truck Driver Medical Qualifications Falls Short

Texas Truck Accident Lawyer | FMCSA Faulted Over Truck Driver Medical Monitoring

A recent audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General has uncovered deficiencies in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) efforts to monitor medical qualifications among truckers and other commercial drivers.

About FMCSA Medical Qualification Monitoring

FMCSA regulations mandate that truckers and other commercial drivers meet certain physical qualification standards to ensure they’re able to operate their vehicles safely.  An examiner registry that was meant to facilitate this effort went online in May 2014.

Specifically, the rules require doctors and other eligible medical professionals to register to begin the certification process to perform driver examinations. While a truck driver’s physical exam is typically good for two years, the examiner may opt to issue a certificate for less than 24 months to monitor any medical issues that could impact road safety.

Certain conditions can disqualify a trucker from driving, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Epilepsy
  • Diabetes
  • A nervous disease
  • A psychiatric disease
  • Poor eyesight (isn’t improved by corrective lenses)
  • Loss of an appendage (leg, arm, foot, or hand)
  • Alcoholism

A driver may also be disqualified for the use of narcotics, amphetamines, and other habit-forming drugs, even when prescribed by a physician.

In some circumstances, a truck driver may be able to apply for an exemption. But first, they must prove they are capable of operating their vehicle without posing a threat to themselves or others.

Registry Outage Hurt Efforts to Monitor Truck Driver Medical Qualification

According to the Inspector General’s audit report, the FMCSA’s ability to monitor driver qualifications has been compromised by a seven-month registry outage that prevented driver examination reports from being entered.

“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s ability to oversee whether drivers meet physical qualification standards to safely operate a commercial vehicle is limited because of a lengthy outage of the [Medical Examiners] National Registry and a resulting backlog of driver examination reports that were not entered into the Registry,” the audit states. “Furthermore, FMCSA has not fully implemented requirements for random periodic monitoring of medical examiners’ eligibility and performance.”

As a result, approximately 780,000 driver examinations could be missing from the database.

The audit also revealed that, as of May 2019, 46% of the registry’s 70,208 records of certified examiners contained outdated medical license information. Although the FMCSA has conducted initial certification reviews of examiners’ eligibility qualifications, it is not yet conducting annual eligibility audits after initial certification.

“Without these oversight reviews, FMCSA may be missing fraud indicators or other risks that may require mitigation and has less assurance that drivers are physically qualified to safely operate a commercial vehicle,” the audit report said.

Since August 2014, investigations conducted by the Office of Inspector General have resulted in 14 convictions involving fraudulent medical certifications.

How FMCSA Can Improve Driver Medical Qualification Oversight

The Office of Inspector General recommended that the FMCSA take four actions to improve its medical certification oversight:

  • Implement a plan for clearing the backlog of driver examination results held by medical examiners.
  • Develop a plan to allocate resources to the Medical Programs Division to fully implement requirements for medical examiner eligibility audits and random selection performance monitoring.
  • Update processes for conducting periodic medical examiner eligibility audits and random selection performance monitoring as needed to incorporate upgraded National Registry tools.
  • Reinstate the conduct of eligibility audits and random selection performance monitoring of medical examiners.

The FMCSA has since indicated that it agrees with the audit recommendations and plans to complete all of them by June 30, 2020. However, the report’s technical recommendations could be completed as early as March 31st.

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