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Driver Medical Exams Under Fire

January 18, 2000

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Just days before the National Transportation Safety Board holds a public hearing on commercial driver oversight, a Pittsburgh newspaper has published an expose on drivers with dangerous medical conditions who are slipping through the CDL oversight system.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found many drivers hide conditions such as life-threatening heart conditions, diabetes and epilepsy that would mean the loss of their license and their livelihood.
Although federal regulations require doctors giving biennial DOT physicals to be knowledgeable about federal commercial driver medical requirements, truckers and doctors alike told the Post-Gazette that many are not. Regulations allow "any licensed medical examiner" to perform the physicals, including physician assistants and chiropractors, without requiring specialized training or passing any kind of test. The paper found one area driver who had been through 20 years of DOT physicals before one doctor finally noticed he had an artificial leg. (The driver went through the complicated waiver process and is now back on the road.)
There is no central reporting process for truckers who fail physicals, so they can just find a more lenient examiner who will let them get back on the road. Some drivers sign the form themselves, or have their wife or someone else sign the form, says the paper.
Dave Longo, spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told the paper that these issues should be addressed under a proposed program that would require failed exams to be reported to state motor vehicle administrators.

The NTSB will be holding a public hearing on commercial driver oversight today and tomorrow in New Orleans. One of the focuses of the meeting will be an accident in May last year when 22 people died after a tour bus crashed near New Orleans. The driver was found to have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, along with high blood pressure and serious kidney problems, yet he still held a valid CDL. He had undergone his two-year DOT physical only nine months earlier.

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