This summer, we have seen significant Congressional activity regarding the topic of truck safety. It is prudent that we track the hearing topics, witness testimonies and resulting recommendations, since hearing outcomes often influence regulations. More importantly, a recent House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) hearing offers an important lesson in the need to better track the medical certification process of drivers.
This hearing, aired just one week prior to the August 1 recess, addressed FMCSA's oversight of drivers' medical certificates.
This hearing included controversial testimony that resulted in much national media attention, suggesting that many commercial drivers may be medically unfit to drive. The reports cited a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that said a significant number of CDL holders were receiving full federal disability benefits.
Many observers acknowledge that the GAO findings regarding the extent/number of individuals holding a CDL who have serious medical conditions will lead to FMCSA directives or additional rulemakings, which increase the effectiveness of the medical certification process. Indeed, some testimony cited the need to expedite FMCSA's much-delayed rulemaking that will merge the medical certification and CDL renewal process. Unfortunately, it will likely be months or even years before these actions result in oversight improvements.
Investigations conducted by the T&I committee staff might, however, be more immediately beneficial to your operation. The goal of the research was to determine the extent to which commercial drivers are operating with invalid and/or expired medical certificates.
For their research, T&I committee staff first worked in conjunction with motor carrier enforcement agencies from three states (e.g., California, Illinois and Ohio) to collect medical certificate data from 614 drivers. Researchers asked for and scanned medical certificates or cards of drivers who were stopped for routine inspections.
Using the data, researchers sent copies of the scanned card and a questionnaire to the physician who performed the physical. The goal was to certify the authenticity of the data. Seventy-five percent of those physicians polled (441) returned completed survey forms. Of those 441, 92% (402) were judged to be valid certificates. Physicians judged that seven (2%) were invalid, meaning that signatures had been forged, dates altered or no record of the patient existed. An additional 23 were judged by researchers to be invalid because they were either returned as undeliverable or unmatchable to a practicing physician name.
Given these findings, we can observe that the vast majority (92%) of drivers possess valid medical certificates. That being said, we now have data which reveals that about 1 in 20 drivers may be carrying invalid or unauthentic medical certificates. While some may deem those acceptable odds, it certainly can be problematic if a driver with an invalid certificate is involved in a crash.
By implementing just a few best practices, you can ensure that 100% of your drivers possess valid medical certificate data. Those practices include mandatory utilization of a defined medical provider network and the monitoring of certificate expiration dates.
In the long term, legislation will more closely link the medical fitness and driver licensing processes. Until then, each of your medical oversight systems needs to ensure the medical fitness of your drivers.
Jim York is the ass't. vice president of technical services for Zurich Services Corp. Risk Engineering in Schaumburg, IL.