Change could be coming to the truck driving industry in the form of stricter health screenings for drivers. The National Transportation Safety Board has been notoriously slow to implement safety recommendations, but recent vehicular accidents are forcing the issue into the legislative spotlight.
Technically, truck drivers are obligated to pass a physical examination and carry a medical certificate stating that they are fit to work. However, rules vary state to state. Sometimes, when an un-certified driver is stopped driving a bus full of passengers, he must stay on the scene until someone else comes to take his shift. More often than not, the driver is issued a citation and told to visit the doctor soon.
This loophole has allowed some abuses of the far from standardized system. Drivers can simply keep driving without a medical card and hope never to suffer any consequence more serious than a citation. Multiple citations for the same offense can be collected unless a legal suit is filed. Drivers who want to play it safer find forgery remarkably easy... the Medical Examination Report for Commercial Driver Fitness Determination can be printed from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website and a doctor's name forged, producing a very generic document that is not easily investigatable by police on scene. And even so, over the last five years police have issued 902,416 citations to commercial drivers without medical certification.
The Unites States has no central database of driver medical certifications, adding to the difficulty to identify a valid medical card from a forged one. The lack of database also means that test administrators can not check to see if a driver has failed the test in the past. Drivers who are denied a medical card by one doctor can shop around the 400,000 U.S. doctors who can administer the exam for one that is willing to issue the card. Any licensed medical practitioner can perform the exam, including medical doctors, osteopaths, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and chiropractors.
It's a widely acknowledged set of practices that have yet to see any major opposition. There are signs, though, that it could soon be addressed. In 2008, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure began investigating the medical certification of commercial drivers. The Government Accountability Office found that hundreds of thousands of drivers are eligible for full disability benefits along with a handful of shocking cases in which remarkably unfit drivers were certified; this includes one bus driver with a breathing disorder who admitted to the doctor that he "occasionally blacks out and forgets things." When they started looking at the medical cards shown to police officers when drivers were pulled over, they discovered that 7 percent of the cards were forged. Their conclusion was that a central repository for truck driver medical examinations to be created.
The FMCSA has been slow to address the issue. In a little over a year, a new FMCSA rule will be implemented requiring drivers to give a copy of their medical examination certificate to their state drivers' license agency: something Congress has been pushing it to do since 1986. The Administration has offered to create state-by-state databases to which drivers, not doctors, submit a report of the examination. Congressmen think this isn't doing enough. Representative Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., said he is "very disappointed that FMCSA has allowed this situation to continue despite the overwhelming evidence that drivers are finding ways to circumvent the medical requirements for a Commercial DriverÃƒ‚Ã¢€Ã¢„Ãƒ‚¢s License," and plans to put it on the legislative agenda for next year.