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Progress in Medical Certification of Truck Drivers Making Roads Safer

Our trucking accident attorneys in Miami recognize the importance of ensuring that commercial truck drivers are medically fit to operate tractor-trailers, which can weigh as much as 25 times more than a passenger car.  While federal law has long required medical certificates confirming that a truck driver is medically fit as a condition of keeping a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), this safety requirement offered limited comfort until recently because no significant standards were imposed for who could sign off on the driver’s fitness.  This month marks the one year anniversary of action by federal regulators to impose standards on who can certify a commercial driver as medically fit.

The benefits of this change in trucking safety regulations is worth revisiting because of the potential impact on roadway safety.  Until the recent change, drivers could seek medical certification from virtually any individual within the medical field including a nurse practitioner or chiropractor.  Further, there were no standards in terms of how the examination should be conducted nor what types of impairments or conditions should be found to disqualify a truck driver.

A 2008 congressional investigation revealed the even more troubling finding that a third of all medical certificates reviewed by law enforcement during vehicle stops could not be confirmed as authentic or accurate.  The person who signed off on the inspection either did not exist or would not confirm ever conducting an examination.  The process was so informal that there was nothing to prevent truck drivers from copying the name, contact information, and medical license number of a doctor off the web to falsify the form.  Since the forms were rarely verified, truck drivers could engage in this form of fraud with little risk of being detected.

The danger posed by having a truck driver on the road who suffered from a serious medical condition can hardly be understated.  Because of the average age of truck drivers and the amount of time they spend engaged in the sedentary activity of driving, there is a high prevalence of obesity-related health conditions in the trucking industry, such as sleep apnea and diabetes, which can render a truck driver unconscious.  A University of Pennsylvania study found that 28 percent of truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea. The seriousness of the problem was revealed by the fact that the congressional investigation referenced above found that 560,000 truck drivers were receiving full medical disability benefits.

Prior to May of last year, there was no electronic data base where the certificates could be reviewed, so law enforcement officers were required to rely on paper forms produced by the truck driver.  The lack of a computerized system left law enforcement officers without a way to verify that the medical certification was valid.  Even if an officer attempted to contact the doctor who signed the certificate, medical privacy laws prevented the medical professional from disclosing information about the driver’s medical condition without a signed waiver.

Fortunately, recently implemented changes have targeted medically unfit truck drivers.  In December 2008, a federal law was passed requiring all states to merge medical certificates and commercial driver’s licenses into a single electronic record for each driver, but states were given three years to comply with this requirement.

Arguably, the most significant change was implemented in May of 2014 when drivers were compelled to have their medical examination performed by a qualified health professional listed with the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.  The law imposed standards for training and testing on medical professionals seeking to qualify for the registry.  The US DOT medical examination was also defined to include health conditions that affect driver safety related to respiratory and muscular functions, vision, hearing and cardiovascular disease.  Because the prospect of an 80,000 pound tractor-trailer combination being driven by a physically impaired driver is a terrifying prospect, these changes were a welcome change in roadway safety.

Greenberg Stone and Urbano:  Seeking Maximum Recovery for Damages Sustained Due to Negligence 

If you have been injured in a trucking collision, the Miami Trucking Accident Attorneys at Greenberg Stone and Urbano will tenaciously pursue the full compensation you deserve.  For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida.  We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.  Our skill and dedication has earned us an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald.   Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.


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