Healthy Truckers Mean Safer Highways

A total of 3,514 people died in large truck crashes in 2012. Some of these accidents were caused by driver distraction; some by equipment malfunction; and some because the truck driver experienced a health crisis, like a heart attack.

Everyone who drives a CMV (commercial motor vehicle ) must undergo periodic physicals in order to obtain and retain their license. In the not too distant past, truckers who knew they had a health problem could “doctor shop,” getting a sketchy exam from a practitioner who was known to overlook issues that could have, and should have, prevented the driver from passing the test. But a new mandate of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has put a stop to that activity by requiring that the physical examination be conducted by a medical professional who has been trained and certified to do so and is listed in the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. May 21, 2014, is the deadline for doctors to complete training, testing and be listed in the Registry.

All healthcare professionals whose scope of practice authorizes them to perform physicals are eligible for certification, including physicians, osteopaths, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and chiropractors. First they have to be familiar with the physical qualifications necessary for truck drivers to safely and competently do their job. This means not only to drive the big rig on the highway, but to do pre- and post-trip safety inspections, secure the load and make sure it has not shifted.

Then the medical examiner must evaluate the driver’s physical and mental conditions and the effects of any current medical treatment on his or her ability to safely drive a CMV. The exam is meant to be comprehensive, to include a vision test, a hearing test and lab work. In fact, the FMCSA Medical Examiner Handbook is 260 pages long and very specific about the standards which must be met. Certain conditions — hearing loss, vision loss, epilepsy and diabetes – are automatically disqualifying unless the driver meets the requirement for getting an exemption. Certificates must be renewed at least every two years, with more frequent exams required for drivers with certain medical issues.

Every month, each medical examiner listed on the National Registry will be require to complete and transmit to FMCSA information about each CMV driver examined during the previous month. This will include the date of the exam, its outcome, and the expiration date of the medical certificate. Doctors who perform future exams on a driver will have access to his or her complete history of certification exams, and law enforcement officers will be able to access the information as well, to determine whether a driver is operating without a current health certificate.

The FMCSA program applies only to interstate drivers, with regulation of in-state truck drivers being left to the individual states. Beginning on May 21, Indiana will require that physical exams for anyone with a CDL be conducted by a person listed on the FMCSA’s National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.

What are some of the health issues that could cause a truck driver to pose a risk to others on the roads? Heart disease is a problem in the industry. The long hours spent sitting in the driver’s seat, few options for healthy eating, and high incidence of smoking among truck drivers all contribute to an increased risk of heart attack.

That lifestyle also contributes to obesity, and obesity is a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, which disturbs a person’s sleep and causes drowsiness during the day. One study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, estimates that 2.4 to 3.9 million of the nation’s 14 million truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea. The study also found that the risk of being involved in a crash increases seven-fold if a driver has sleep apnea.

In January of this year, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released the results of a survey of nearly 1,700 long-haul truck drivers. Alarmingly, 88 percent of the drivers surveyed said they had at least one risk factor — high-blood pressure, smoking, obesity, etc. — for chronic disease, compared to 54 percent of the general U.S. adult working population.

An accident involving a large truck is likely to be much more serious than one involving only passenger vehicles, so we’re thankful the authorities are taking serious the task of keeping unhealthy truck drivers off the road. If you have been hurt in an accident caused by a negligent truck driver, including one who failed to get the required physical exam, call Mike Stephenson, Indiana truck accident lawyer, at 1-855-206-2555.