The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has approved a new rule that will require merging commercial truck and bus drivers’ licenses with medical examination certificates into one electronic record. According to this Associated Press news report, this is part of the federal agency’s effort to get medically unfit truck and bus drivers off the road.
Apparently federal officials have been dragging their feet on issuing this rule, which would have prevented medically unfit truckers and bus drivers from getting behind the wheel. FMCSA has also proposed creating a registry of doctors or physicians qualified to award health certificates to these drivers. Medical examiners who fail to meet minimum standards could be banned from issuing these fitness-to-drive certificates.
This rule has been a long time coming. The Associated Press did an in-depth investigative report in August which showed some surprising facts. The report revealed that hundreds of thousands of tractor trailer and bus drivers in the United States still have their commercial driver’s licenses in spite of qualifying for full federal disability and suffering serious health conditions including seizures, heart attacks and sudden loss of consciousness.
I’m pleased the FMCSA has finally approved this much-needed rule after years of lobbying by safety advocates. Had they approved this rule a decade ago, they could have saved hundreds if not thousands of people who were killed or injured because of sick truckers operating on our nation’s highways. Agency officials had repeatedly delayed deciding on this issue despite numerous warnings from Congress.
The new rule, which was finalized on December 1, 2008, addressed a list of recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board in 2001 in response to a bus accident in 1999 that killed 22 people. In that accident, the driver – 46-year-old Frank Bedell, suffered kidney and heart conditions but still held a valid commercial license and a certificate saying he was fit enough to drive. According to the NTSB, one of the passengers said the driver was slumped in his seat moments before that fatal crash. This rule came a little too late for the victims who died in that crash and others who were critically injured.