Feds field health questions

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Updated Dec 6, 2009

In a meeting Dec. 2, conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Office of Medical Programs aimed at addressing the questions of agency field staff and state motor carrier safety personnel about coming changes to medical certification regulations of commercial drivers, the agency’s Chief Medical Officer Bennise Lester and medical programs chief Elaine Papp both repeatedly emphasized the case-by-case nature of most areas of medical disqualification.

“The primary concerns are the driver’s physical ability to function while operating a commercial vehicle,” said Papp in response to a question about a potential federal cap on the age of commercial drivers. “Medical requirements should be performance-based and not linked to age. We’re not looking at making any changes based on age at this point.”

Similarly, regarding the subject of Body Mass Index, a measurement which expresses the ratio of fat to muscle in an individual – a BMI number above 30 is considered to indicate obesity – FMCSA medical programs director Mary Gunnels said BMI would not be a factor by itself in any testing mandate for conditions associated with obesity, such as sleep apnea. She, Lester and Papp all stressed it was just “one among many measurements associated with determining obesity,” in Gunnels’ words, and that “we don’t have a specific requirement on testing.”

FMCSA’s Medical CDL program, set for full implementation in January 2012, feeds medical certification data directly to the CDL Information System database. Combined with a reporting requirement for approved examiners linked to the medical CDL, it will be much harder for drivers whose certifications have been disqualified or lapsed to slip through the regulatory cracks.

Disclosure requirements placed on drivers upon any change in health that could affect medical certification (for instance, deteriorating vision), also will be more easily enforced by FMCSA the more information is gained from medical examiners. 

“This third piece is closing the loop on fraud with the SAFETEA-LU requirement that FMCSA receive and evaluate medical long forms” from examiners, said Gunnels. “We are requesting appropriations through the reauthorization that will get that one done.” 

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Considering the specifics of many of the questions delivered to the agency representatives during the Dec. 2 presentation, clearly many drivers and motor carrier personnel were listening.

The Office of Medical Programs will conduct a repeat webinar Dec. 16. To participate, email [email protected] with “medical webinar” in the email subject line. For more information, call (202) 385-2375.

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