Tougher Driver Medical Standards Proposed

Citing a link between driver health and recent truck and bus crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board called for numerous changes in the driver medical certification process.

NTSB issued a report Aug. 28 on a 1999 bus crash in Louisiana that killed 22. The report said the driver’s poor medical condition contributed to the accident and that “the failure of the medical certification process to remove unfit drivers” was not an isolated problem.

The board asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to:

  • Ensure medical personnel performing driver examinations are qualified to do so, and educate them about occupational issues for drivers.
  • Establish a system to track and review prior applications by drivers for medical certification.
  • Update medical certification regulations periodically, aiding examiners with rules about common medical conditions.
  • Give guidance to examiners and provide a source of information for examination-related questions.
  • Ensure that enforcement officials can identify invalid medical certification during safety inspections and routine stops.
  • Keep uncertified drivers off the road until an appropriate medical examination takes place.
  • Develop a system that records all positive drug and alcohol test results.

The National Transportation Safety Board wants changes in the driver medical certification process, including guidelines for examiners.

The last recommendation follows similar state efforts in Washington and California. An Oregon bill two years ago established a database at the state’s DMV to track commercial drivers’ drug test results. Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the California legislature that sought the same type of database. According to Warren Hoemann, vice president, California Trucking Association, that bill would have set up a “database at the DMV on truck drivers who have tested positive or have refused to test for drugs or alcohol.” But the bill was loaded down with other amendments, including an onboard recorder provision, and was derailed in the state Assembly.

According to Joseph Osterman, director of highway safety for NTSB, the driver in the fatal bus crash in 1999 not only had drugs in his system at the time of the wreck, but also had been fired from previous positions for failing drug tests. His carrier had been unable to discover his past violations because the driver lied on his application, and previous employers tend to be leery about revealing drug test results to subsequent employers, Osterman said.

NTSB called on state legislatures to enact liability protection for carriers that honestly report such information.

NTSB can only make recommendations following its investigations. Osterman said it’s unlikely any regulations or changes enacted by federal or state regulators in response to these recommendations will affect current drivers, since the problems are related to the hiring process.

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