The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has published a final rule in the Federal Register that requires states to merge commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) and a driver’s medical examination certificate into a single electronic record.

Scheduled to be implemented by the states by January 30, 2012, the combined CDL will streamline record keeping obligations for both the states and CDL holders, providing state and federal enforcement officials with instant access to the CDL holders’ medical certificates. The rule requires states to take enforcement actions against CDL holders if they do not provide medical certification status information by the deadline.

FMCSA said that the final rule will prevent medically unqualified drivers from operating on U.S. roads and serve as a deterrent to drivers who submit falsified medical certificates.

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“While there are no studies to provide data on the number of medically unqualified drivers that may be currently operating CMVs in interstate commerce, roadside inspection and compliance review data for calendar year 2007 indicate there remains a need to improve oversight of the medical certification process for CMV drivers,” the final rule stated. “For calendar year 2007, FMCSA and its State partners conducted more than 3.4 million roadside inspections. There were 145,219 violations cited for drivers failing to have a medical examination certificate in their possession while operating a CMV, 42,171 violations cited for drivers operating with an expired medical examination certificate, 4,387 violations for drivers in possession of an improper medical examination certificate, and 6,105 violations for physically unqualified drivers.”

FMCSA also issued a related rulemaking that would establish a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. The registry would ensure that physical examinations of CDL holders are performed in a uniform and consistent manner by qualified medical practitioners, creating certification standards that include training and testing programs.

The registry would also require each medical examiner to electronically transmit to FMCSA the name and a numerical identifier for every driver examined. Examiners who do not meet or maintain the minimum standards of the proposal would be removed from the National Registry, FMCSA said.

“While we have made significant improvements in motor carrier safety, these actions will support and strengthen our continuing commitment to ensure that only medically qualified individuals are allowed to operate an interstate truck or bus,” said FMCSA Administrator John Hill. “Safety is our paramount responsibility.”

FMCSA first published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on November 16, 2006, and the final rule is consistent with the NPRM after considering the public comments. According to FMCSA, ten commenters expressed support for linking medical certification status to obtaining and maintaining a CDL, while 26 opposed the amendment, believing the regulation would lead to increased costs and paperwork burdens on carriers, drivers and states.

Public comments on the final rule should be submitted by January 30, 2009.