Federally-Mandated Medical Examinations Fail to Bar Seriously Unwell Truck Drivers from the Road
Commercial drivers of large trucks, such as 18-wheelers and semi-trucks, are given a great deal of responsibility in being permitted to drive these large vehicles. They’re required to be highly attentive, alert, and technically skilled at maneuvering these giant vehicles, all for many hours a day. A failure to remain mentally and physically alert behind the wheel could spell disaster for other drivers, or even for buildings near the road. For this reason, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) compels all drivers applying for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to undergo a medical examination prior to obtaining a license. However, many drivers have been able to escape the health standards that the FMCSA sets by failing to accurately self-report their medical history, or by obtaining exemptions from the FMCSA’s standards.
The FMCSA includes among its extensive regulations on long-haul commercial truck driving a section on the medical conditions that drivers should not have when being granted a license. These conditions all relate to the ability to continuously control large trucks and include: heart disease, severe high blood pressure that could cause the driver to lose consciousness, nerve damage in the hands or feet that would interfere with steering or pedal operation, neurological disorders, severe sleep apnea, diabetes mellitus that is controlled only with the use of insulin, and certain forms of arthritis. Unfortunately, a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control alongside the FMCSA has uncovered that long-haul truck drivers actually suffer from far worse health than the average U.S. citizen. This includes rates of overweightness, obesity, and diabetes twice that of the average population, as well as far more chronic fatigue and double the average rate of cigarette smoking. These behaviors and conditions can all result in serious health problems that could cause drivers to lose consciousness while spending up to 11 hours behind the wheel of a massive truck. Many of these drivers who might otherwise not pass the required medical examination to obtain a CDL, however, are granted exemptions to the medical requirements, a practice attributed in part to the shortage of able candidates for commercial trucking work. However, these sorts of exemptions can result in tragic accidents. In one incident, a driver who had recently undergone surgery for an almost-completely blocked artery was permitted to get back on the road, where he lost consciousness while driving due to his restricted blood flow and crashed into a bus full of tourists, killing three.
Another flaw in the system for weeding out unhealthy drivers is that it is the drivers themselves who must report that they are unfit to drive. During the medical examination, the physicians determining whether these drivers are fit to obtain a CDL are required to rely on the medical histories as reported by the drivers themselves, since many serious conditions would not appear on a one-time physical. However, a driver would have little motivation to disclose these conditions, possibly not being able to obtain an exemption for their diagnosis. A system that verifies a driver’s medical history and limits the number of exemptions would be far more effective in guaranteeing the safety of both the drivers themselves and those with whom they share the road.
If you have been hurt in a large truck or 18-wheeler accident in Alabama, contact the knowledgeable and compassionate Mobile personal injury and truck accident lawyer J. Allan Brown, at 251-473-6691.