In order to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate trucking, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCA) requires drivers to submit to a medical certification process and to be cleared to safety drive. Motor carriers are obligated to verify that drivers they employ have a current medical certificate and to keep copies of the certificates in their drivers’ files. The scope of the regulations require truck drivers to be medically qualified not only to operate the vehicles safety, but also to perform all inspection procedures related to its operation which are required for safety. Examples include the ability to check the stability of the load being hauled, the ability to physically verify that one’s load is properly secured, as well as being physically fit enough to perform a complete and thorough pre and post trip inspection of the tractor, trailer and related safety systems. Certain health conditions will render a driver disqualified to operate the vehicle. Examples include epilepsy, insulin use, medical marijuana use, hearing and vision loss (for a more complete list, see 49 CFR 391.41).
Why does this process exist, you may ask? Allow me to illustrate the reasons with two real life examples:
I was recently involved in a case in which a driver suffered severe spinal injuries in a work-related accident, which required him to submit to spine surgery. In the wake of the injuries and treatment, he continued to suffer severe pain, as well as sudden bouts of weakness, numbness and tingling in the legs. His pain was sufficiently severe to require him to take narcotic pain medication on a periodic basis. Unfortunately for my client, the driver failed to disclose any of this information in the course of the medical certification process or to his employer. The driver suffered an onset of weakness in his legs which left him unable to apply the brakes in a proper manner, causing him to lose control of his rig and violently rear-end my client. My client suffered very serious injuries, which required surgery.
In the news,I saw another example of a driver’s medical issue causing an accident and injury to others. The crash occurred at a rest stop in Kennebunk, Maine when the 78 year old driver of a tractor trailer reportedly suffered a diabetic seizure at the wheel and slammed into another tractor which was parked and then burst into flames. Fortunately, both drivers suffered only minor injuries in the dramatic accident, although one driver reportedly had his dog with him in the rig which was killed in the explosion.
The medical certification process is necessary and exists to make certain that drivers are physically qualified to operate commercial vehicles safety. But the process also requires honesty and candor on the part of the driver. Drivers are required to provide health history and to certify to the fact that the information provided is truthful and complete. Civil penalties may be levied for drivers who provide false information or who conceal disqualifying conditions. Unfortunately, this not always sufficient to compel drivers to be honest.