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Are Medical Examiners Certifying Unsafe Truck Drivers?

In an earlier post I asked — Are Truck Driver Health Issues Causing Accidents? We believe the answer is clearly, yes. Our firm has helped numerous Alabama clients injured in crashes caused by drivers with dangerous health conditions.

We understand commercial truck accident cases and the issues in those cases. Our recent investigations include crashes caused by drivers suffering fatigue from severe sleep apnea, drivers with known histories of seizures and drivers with drug abuse issues. For more information on the significant problem with truck driver health on our highways, you can read our prior post.

Federal regulations require commercial drivers to obtain a medical certification of their health. So, why are dangerously unhealthy truckers allowed on our highways? A primary reason is the medical certification process itself. That process is faulty with few checks or balances. The qualifications required under Federal law to be a medical examiner are low. And, medical certifications are rarely reviewed for accuracy or safety. This leads to a huge problem — biased medical professionals who will certify anyone for a price.

A current case from Georgia highlights this issue. On December 1, a medical examiner in that state was arrested for issuing fake medical certifications. This examiner operated out of a local truck stop. According to Department of Transportation (DOT) investigators, the examiner issued about 360 truck driver certifications a month. The examiner is charged with issuing the certifications without performing full medical examinations.

During their investigation, DOT officials actually visited the “clinic” posing as truckers needing certification. And, they received certifications without an examination. The examiner failed to perform important vision, hearing, blood pressure, heart rate, and urinalysis tests. He was putting unsafe drivers on our highways where they could harm our families. According to reports:

The DOT estimates more than 6,600 drivers are affected. Most of those are domiciled in Georgia, . . . but drivers from 48 states have been impacted.

That’s a huge number of drivers. How many of these drivers put our loved ones at risk of severe personal injury or death? We don’t know. It is likely many of these drivers operate on the Interstates and highways across Alabama.

The DOT began its investigation of the Georgia examiner after receiving a tip from an actual truck driver. That truck driver should be thanked. And, we should encourage drivers to report bad examiners who put us all at risk on the highway. Yet, this should not be the only method of enforcement. We need better monitoring of medical examiners. What should we do? Here are five areas to discuss:

  1. Continue encouraging drivers to report bad medical examiners.
  2. Review medical examiner records including the number of drivers certified per month. Clearly, no examiner could perform full physical examinations on more than 360 people per month.
  3. Review specific driver examination records following accidents to determine if health issues played a part. Take action if these issues were known or should have been discovered on a routine examination.
  4. Hold trucking companies accountable for accidents caused by a driver with health issues that were known or discoverable on a legitimate routine examination.
  5. Restrict the role of medical examiner to licensed medical physicians. Currently, Federal regulations allow certain other professionals to certify drivers.

We must take commercial driver health seriously. Healthy truck drivers will improve our trucking system. And, healthy truck drivers will make our roads and highways safer for all of us.