Improving Road Safety Through Certification of Medical Professionals

One of the ways that the United States Department of Transportation protects the safety of all drivers and passengers on the road is through biannual medical examinations of all commercial drivers - this includes all semi-truck and bus drivers.

As such, every two years, drivers holding a commercial driver's license, or CDL, undergo medical tests and exams looking for conditions that affect drivers' safe-handling of vehicles. Fire Engineering reports that the exams include testing drivers' muscular and respiratory functions, vision, and hearing, as well as for cardiovascular diseases. If drivers are found to be physically fit, they are issued a medical certificate, which allows them to maintain their CDL.

To further ensure that commercial drivers are physically fit enough to drive safely, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, recently introduced a final rule that will require all medical professionals who perform medical exams on commercial drivers to be certified.

National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners

The National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners, or National Registry for short, will include a publicly available list of certified healthcare professionals available to conduct exams of commercial drivers. According to the final rule, to maintain their commercial driver's licenses, interstate commercial drivers must receive their biannual exam from one of the medical professionals on the National Registry.

Currently, the FMSCA allows any healthcare professional that follows state law and regulations to become "licensed, certified, and/or registered" to conduct medical exams on commercial drivers and issue drivers a medical certificate. The only additional requirements are that the healthcare professional understand the "physical and mental demands associated with operating" a commercial vehicle and follow the guidelines set forth by the FMCSA.

According to the FMSCA, the purpose of the new rule is to ensure that the healthcare professionals who perform medical exams on interstate commercial drivers "are trained, tested and certified on the specific physical qualifications standards that affect a driver's ability to safely operate" a semi-truck or bus.

"By holding medical examiners accountable to high standards of practice, we raise the bar for safety and save lives through increased commercial driver and vehicle safety," said Anne S. Ferro, FMCSA Administrator.

The new rule will require all healthcare professionals who wish to conduct physical exams for the purpose of issuing medical certificates to commercial drivers to register with the National Registry, complete training on the FMCSA's regulations on the physical requirements of CDL holders, and pass a certification test. Once a healthcare professional is certified, he or she will be listed on the National Registry.

Certification for medical professionals will be valid for ten years, and training will be required every five years.

"Safety is our top priority and requires cooperation from everyone involved, including our medical examiners. This new rule will ensure that healthcare professionals conducting exams keep in mind all of the demands required to operate large trucks and passenger buses safely," remarked U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The final rule takes effect on May 21, 2014, and beginning on that date CDL holders seeking a medical certificate must receive an exam from a certified healthcare professional listed on the National Registry.

Opposition to the Rule

Not everyone agrees with the FMCSA's final rule, believing that it may actually hurt commercial drivers.

Quoted by Land Line, a magazine for trucking professionals, Joe Rajkovacz, Regulatory Affairs Director for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said that he believed the new rule would "reduce the availability of medical examiners for drivers" because of the time and cost for examiners to become certified. Rajkovacz speculates that fewer medical examiners will result in higher costs to drivers seeking a medical certificate to maintain their CDLs.

Been in an Accident?

The FMCSA's final rule is another step in the right direction for road safety. However, for a variety of reasons, including distracted driving and hours of service violations, accidents involving 18-wheelers and commercial drivers still occur. Due to the size of commercial vehicles, injuries sustained by drivers and passengers of smaller cars and trucks can be devastating and life altering.

If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident involving a commercial driver or big rig, speak with an experienced attorney about your legal rights and options. An attorney can help you seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, long-term rehabilitation costs, and pain and suffering.