The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asked CVSA to change its criteria to make not having the certificate an out-of-service offense the first time it happens, but the CVSA committee that makes these determinations decided that the better approach is to give the driver two strikes.
The change would not take effect until the full membership of CVSA ratifies the committee's decision at the group's fall meeting, said executive director Steve Keppler.
Even as a second strike, adding the certificate to the list of out-of-service criteria is potentially a significant compliance issue.
Failure to have a medical certificate is the fourth most common violation in the new CSA enforcement program, after form-and-manner log violations, logs not current and speeding, said Rob Abbott, vice president of safety policy at American Trucking Associations.
Industry members of CVSA objected to the FMCSA's request for a first-strike violation.
"We felt very strongly that it does not make sense to make it an out-of-service item because (those) criteria should be about preventing people from operating who present an imminent hazard," Abbott said. "Drivers who forget to carry a med card don't present an imminent hazard."
Abbott also said that preliminary analysis of CSA data shows that failure to have a certificate does not indicate a higher risk of being involved in a crash.
The members of the CVSA committee that drafts the out-of-service criteria found that the industry's arguments were valid, and decided on the second-strike approach, Keppler said.
Both Keppler and Abbott said that the FMCSA initiative arises from the agency's stepped-up focus on driver medical issues - bus drivers, for instance, already can be placed out of service for the first violation. And there is a safety issue: while many drivers simply forget their card, others don't have one because they are not qualified to get one.
The agency confirmed this in a statement: "This action is designed to encourage full compliance with the existing medical qualification rules and improve the safety of our nation's roadways."
Keppler and Abbott also said the agency wants to build additional protection into the system because some state licensing departments may not be ready to start validating driver medical certificates as required starting January 30, 2012.
Under an FMCSA rule made final in 2008, states must start recording the valid certificates of new drivers next January, and recording the certificates of existing drivers January 30, 2014.
Some states are concerned about getting this done on time, confirmed Kevin Lewis, director of driver programs for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. They have limited resources and many priorities, he said. "They are stretched thin."
Keppler explained that roadside inspectors will be able to check prior violations of the certificate requirement through the Driver Information Resource database.
He also said that FMCSA has asked CVSA to have roadside inspectors start doing random checks of the accuracy of certificates by calling the doctor listed on the certificate directly. The alliance is figuring out how it might implement such a program, he said.