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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Abuse of Medical Certification System for Truck and Bus Drivers Endangers others Sharing the Road

Drivers of commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses must possess a medical certification card to prove that they are qualified to operate their vehicle. While this requirement was originally intended to ensure that all drivers meet certain minimum health standards, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCA) has not strictly enforced this regulation, enabling unqualified drivers to abuse the system in order to remain on the road.

After a 1999 bus accident caused by a medically unqualified driver killed 22 passengers, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a series of recommendations to the FMCA in order to prevent similar commercial vehicle-related accidents in the future. These recommendations specifically called for tougher medical standards regarding eligibility for certification cards as well as the establishment of a medical oversight program for interstate commercial drivers.

The FMCA's poor response to these recommendations has made it possible for medically unqualified drivers to remain on the road, resulting in a significant number of fatal truck accidents and bus accidents. Between 2002 and 2008, more than 825 fatal accidents were attributed to the actions of medically unqualified or fatigued drivers.

There are two main problems with the system which have enabled these drivers to remain on the road:

  • Lack of rigorous guidelines for the dispensing of medical certification cards
  • Poor enforcement of regulations and a lack of appropriate penalties for noncompliance

There are several issues at play regarding the first problem. Just about any licensed medical practitioner can administer a Department of Transportation medical exam. It is not uncommon for doctors of osteopathy, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and chiropractors to perform these exams. This has made it much easier for medically unqualified drivers to engage in the practice of "doctor shopping." Due to the lack of a medical oversight program and a centralized data base monitoring the results of these exams, drivers who fail their initial exam will regularly go from doctor to doctor until they find one willing to certify them.

Furthermore, the medical certification forms can be downloaded on the internet, making it substantially easier to forge these documents. Roadside checks regularly uncover forged forms among the drivers stopped for inspection.

The second problem is equally problematic and has essentially fostered a climate of noncompliance with these safety regulations. While commercial drivers can receive a citation for not possessing a valid medical certification, they are often allowed to continue driving. Medically unqualified truck drivers are rarely pulled off the road, even after receiving multiple citations. As a result, these citations have become nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

Unfortunately, this problem is likely to persist until the FMCA imposes greater consequences for noncompliance and establishes an electronic monitoring system to cut down on the rampant fraud committed by unqualified drivers and unscrupulous healthcare practitioners.

If you have been injured in a truck accident or bus accident caused by a medically unqualified driver, the attorneys at The Cochran Firm can help you receive the compensation you deserve. Please contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation. We serve clients nationwide.

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posted by Benjamin A. Irwin at 10:50 AM

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