Commercial truck driver health is a safety issue on our highways. In past articles, I’ve discussed the serious health problems truck drivers suffer. Truckers suffer much higher rates of problems like diabetes, sleep apnea and morbid obesity. These health conditions can slow driver reactions and concentration — putting everyone at risk for needless injury or death. The long hours of sedentary work away from home in many truck driving jobs contributes to these health issues and makes medical care difficult.
Medical certification requirements for commercial truckers are an important part of highway safety. But, the system only works if medical certifications are legitimate, honest and fair. Unfortunately, they are not. Too many unsafe commercial drivers are allowed on our highways.
The Federal regulations have allowed truly unqualified medical examiners to issue certifications. A chiropractor may be qualified to perform therapeutic treatments for a pulled lower back muscle but is he or she really qualified to certify a trucker with dangerous sleep apnea? The Federal regulations have also allowed unhealthy truckers on our roads. Let’s look again at sleep apnea. It can be a big safety issue. Yet, unsafe drivers are routinely certified without requiring medical treatment or monitoring for the condition. The rules fail to adequately address specific health issues like sleep apnea, diabetes, morbid obesity or drug dependence. I’ve written several articles about these issues in the past. For more information on sleep apnea and truck safety, you can read my article titled Sleep Apnea: Government Chooses Trucking Industry Over Safety.
In addition to the other shortcomings in the system, some medical examiners are simply committing fraud. They are falsely certifying truckers. In a prior posts, I asked:
In those posts I discuss two medical examiners in Georgia who were arrested for fraudulent medical certifications. One of them was certifying over 350 truckers a month! How could any medical professional conduct that many real examinations? The other was arrested and charged with issuing certifications to truckers he had never even examined. Both of these Georgia-based examiners put truckers on highways that cross Alabama.
Another recent case involved a chiropractor based in Alabama. This Alabama chiropractor was arrested last year for falsifying medical certification reports and sending them to the DOT. The chiropractor later pled guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud. This incident raises several of the questions I’ve asked in prior articles about who is really qualified to conduct examinations and how we insure these examinations are legitimate.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of Inspector General has recently announced an audit of the DOT medical certification program. This audit is long overdue. A trucking industry website noted that since 2014:
there have been eight indictments and six convictions against medical examiners who have issued fraudulent certificates to drivers. In most cases, the examiner was issuing certificates without performing a full exam and, in some cases, the examiners uploaded fake exam results to FMSCA.
The Inspector General is expected to evaluate the medical certification process and the protocol for verifying certification information. Hopefully, the audit will produce much needed improvements in this process. The safety of our families on the highway depends upon a fair system for certifying truck driver health. For truck drivers, a good certification process can also lead to needed medical treatment extending their ability to work long-term. This is a positive development for everyone.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we specialize in Alabama personal injury cases. We represent people across Alabama who have suffered serious injuries from commercial vehicle crashes. Consultations are always free and confidential.