Starting May 21 all driver medical exams have to be done by an examiner who is certified to the new National Registry standards.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration believes that by May 21 there will be enough examiners certified to handle the work, but trucking interests are not so sure.
“We are concerned,” said Rob Abbott, vice president of safety policy at American Trucking Associations.
The agency estimates that it will need about 40,000 certified examiners once the system is fully up and running but only about 20,000 to handle the workload on May 21. That’s because medical cards must be renewed every two years, so they don’t all have to be done at once.
Right now the agency has about 6,000 examiners who have cleared the certification process and another 16,000 with certifications pending, said Larry Minor, associate administrator for policy and program development at the agency.
FMCSA spokesman Duane DeBruyne confirmed that the agency expects to have 20,000 certified examiners on the rolls by May 21.
“We believe that would be sufficient to handle the drivers needing an exam on that day,” he said in an email.
Still, ATA is worried that the agency may be underestimating the number of drivers who will need to renew their medical cards by May 21, Abbott said.
The association also is asking about accessibility to certified examiners.
“FMCSA may get 20,000 examiners signed up in time, but that doesn’t ensure that there will be examiners within a reasonable driving distance of each driver,” Abbott said.
This issue has been part of the discussion since the National Registry was first proposed in 2008. In the 2012 final rule the agency acknowledged industry concerns and said that 20,000 certified examiners on May 21 would be enough to “ensure reasonably convenient access in all but the most remote areas.”
Lack of access might affect only a small number of drivers, given that drivers often are near populated areas where certified examiners can be found, the agency said.
Abbott said ATA supports the certification program and has offered to help the agency promote examiner training and certification, particularly in areas where coverage may fall short. And the association is pleased that the agency is monitoring the certification process.
“However, if in mid-April it appears an adequate number of examiners will not be certified to participate, we will encourage the agency to delay launch,” Abbott said.