The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration today published its final rule changing how driver medical qualifications are handled, tying them to the commercial driver's license.

CDL drivers who are subject to the medical qualification rules will have to give a copy of their medical examiner's certificates to their state driver licensing agency. The state licensing agency must record that medical certification status on the driver's Commercial Driver License Information System (CDLIS) record.

If the medical certification expires, states are required to update the medical certification status
of the CDLIS driver record to show the driver as 'not-certified," and then downgrade the CDL within 60 days of the expiration of the driver certification.

The rule is effective Jan. 20, 2009, with state compliance required by Jan. 30, 2012. All CDL holders must comply with the requirement to submit to the state licensing agencies their self-certification on whether they are subject to the physical qualification rules by Jan. 30, 2014.

Currently, interstate CDL drivers are responsible for providing a copy of the medical examiner's certificate to the motor carrier and for carrying a copy of the certificate when operating. Under this final rule, drivers must provide the medical examiner's certificate to the state licensing agency. A driver's date-stamped medical examiner's certificate (or a copy) serves as a receipt from the SDLA and may be used as proof of medical certification for 15 days. Except for using the receipt for the first 15 days, the driver is no longer allowed to use the medical examiner's
certificate as proof of his or her certification to enforcement personnel or employers. Such drivers no longer have to carry the actual medical examiner's certificate, but must continue to carry any skill performance evaluation (SPE) certificate or medical exemption document while on duty.

Motor carriers must place the driver's current CDLIS MVR documenting the driver's medical certification status in the driver's qualification file before allowing the driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Motor carriers may no longer use a copy of the medical examiner's certificate to document physical qualification in the file, except for up to 15 days from the date stamp on the receipt given to the driver by the state licensing agency.

FMCSA says the new rule will help prevent medically unqualified drivers from operating on the nation's highways by providing state licensing agencies a means of identifying interstate CDL holders who are unable to obtain a medical certificate and taking action to downgrade their CDLs
accordingly. The final rule will also serve as a deterrent to drivers submitting falsified medical certificates because FMCSA and state enforcement personnel will now have access, via CDLIS, to information about the medical certificate and the identity of the medical examiner who performed the examination. Electronic access will enable FMCSA and the states to detect certain patterns or anomalies concerning the source of medical certificates through queries of the licensing databases at any time rather than being limited to checking for such issues during roadside inspections and compliance reviews.

FMCSA estimates that there are 3,000 trucks per year involved in crashes where there was either a fatality or serious injury, and the 'critical reason' for the crash was the truck driver having a heart attach or other physical impairment. Medical certifications violations are found in between 7 and 8 percent of driver roadside inspections, making them one of the most commonly cited driver violations. Data from industry indicate that approximately 7 percent of drivers fail the medical examination. This violation is cited in approximately 6 percent of post crash inspections, and evaluation of this post-crash inspection data indicates that drivers with medical certification violations may pose an increased crash risk when compared with drivers not cited with this violation.