NPR looks at truckers’ health issues and regulation

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A radio story on regulators’ scrutiny of truckers health aired last week Friday for a larger than usual audience — on NPR by reporter Frank Morris out of station KCUR in Kansas City, Mo.

He introduced the heart — or stomach — of the story quickly: “Outside the Iron Skillet restaurant on I-70 east of Kansas City — where you can get a salad, but the chicken-fried steak and eggs with gravy sure look more appealing — it appears few truckers are going hungry,” Morris said.

Driver Jerry Mumma was quoted saying he needs to lose weight: “I’m not bad,” he told Morris. “I’m 6-foot-4, but I weigh 406 pounds.'”

The report described the incidence of sleep apnea among truckers, the difficulty paying for insurance, the national registry to stop so-called “doctor shopping” in CDL certification exams and regulators’ perspective in a way that may let four-wheelers on the road understand more of the challenges facing truckers.

Though covered extensively in Overdrive and Truckers News magazines, these issues are infrequently reported in as much detail for the millions of four-wheel motorists in the nation who have never sat behind the wheel of a big rig.

Maggi Gunnels of FMCSA’s Office of Medical Programs empahsized to Morris that high-risk drivers need to be kept off the road. “It’s safer for them, and it’s safer for the American public who travel,” Gunnels said.

Since, like Gunnels pointed out, everyone’s safety on the road is important, it would have been nice to hear in the radio story the number of deaths caused by both truck and car crashes, as well as the number caused from sleepy car motorists, not only tired truckers.

Of the 4,600-truck-related fatalities, about 1,544 deaths in 2007 — is that the same as “thousands,” as NPR cited? — are estimated to have been caused by fatigued truckers. Any death by fatigue or other cause is tragic, no doubt. But of those 37,435 people killed in accidents caused by four-wheel drivers in 2007, 18 percent (or nearly 7,000) were killed by fatigued drivers.

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May be that more than one trucker would have appreciated a nod to all drivers (big rig or compact car) for getting a grip on health, losing weight if it can hurt you or others, and staying awake on our nation’s roads. –Lucinda Coulter, Overdrive managing editor

**Overdrive‘s “Wake-up Call” story on health regulations coming down the pike.

**Truckers News’ Fit for the Road program