The National Transportation Safety Board urged the federal government to regulate the use of legal drugs by truck and bus drivers after determining that such drugs played a part in a 1998 Greyhound bus crash in Pennsylvania that killed seven people.
During a board meeting Wednesday, the NTSB determined that Greyhound driver Milton Wisner's alertness was affected by an antihistamine he took for a chronic sinus problem. The medication's effects, along with other factors, were determined to have contributed to the fatal accident.
The board recommended that the Department of Transportation compile a list of approved medications that are safe to take when driving and to prohibit commercial drivers from using medications not on that list. The NTSB also asked the Food and Drug Administration to develop a "clear, consistent and easily recognizable" warning label for all medicines that could impair a person's ability to drive.
The board asked the new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to develop a procedure for drivers who medically require substances not on the list of approved medications to be allowed to used those medications if appropriate. The NTSB also wants the FMCSA to publish easy-to-understand information for drivers on the hazards of using specific medications when driving.
The board also asked the FMCSA to work with the DOT and other modal administrations to establish testing requirements for a sample of fatal highway and other transportation accidents to determine the role played by common prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Along with the medication problem, the NTSB determined that the Greyhound accident was caused by a sleep debt caused by the scheduled irregular work-rest cycle. It also criticized Greyhound's driver training and safety oversight program, and said that the company ignored anonymous calls to its toll-free safety number.
These issues will likely be discussed further when the NTSB holds a public hearing on commercial driver oversight Jan. 20-21 in New Orleans.