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National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners to standardize medical fitness testing for truckers — and specify which doctors are qualified to perform exams

Written by Steve Gursten Posted November 27th, 2013

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Something that all truck accident lawyers and all trucking companies should know is that before a trucker can operate a large semi-truck, he or she must be medically certified as physically qualified to do so under § 391.41 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

But there have long been problems with this rule because there is no standardization among medical professionals.  And as a lawyer who has litigated cases of truck drivers on medications like anti-epilepsy drugs, I also know first-hand that these medical exams can be abused.  There is tremendous pressure on drivers to find some medical doctor, somewhere, to certify their medical fitness to meet the federal requirement.  And once they find these doctors, the word spreads and other unsafe truck drivers flock to get certified when they have no business being behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer.

These “special” doctors always give a clean bill of health, even when the truck drivers they’re examining have very serious medical conditions and are on medications that impair their ability to drive.

In fact, there are close to 600,000 commercial truck drivers with dangerous medical conditions — and who qualify for full federal disability payments — driving commercial trucks on the roads today, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study from 2010.

Are the days of doctor shopping for truck drivers now over?

A new federal program called the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners now requires commercial drivers be screened by trained, certified and licensed health care providers using consistent nation-wide criteria to determine the driver’s fitness for their job. This is a great improvement on the current status quo in certifying truck driver medical fitness.

The National Registry is in place to regulate medical examinations of truck drivers to ensure the highest level of integrity and scrutiny in the truck driver medical screening process.

The new program mandates that all medical examiners who perform physical examinations for interstate commercial motor vehicles (which are typically large semi-truck or commercial buses) drivers to be trained and certified in FMCSA physical qualification standards. This new initiative comes down straight from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The Registry makes a lot of sense. In fact, it’s a wonder why it took so long!

We previously touched on this new registry in the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable blog. It was part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21 Act).

As the number of big-rig trucks on the highways has continued to increase, it’s believed that improper medical certification has directly contributed to crashes. The number of semi-trucks on the road is expected to increase in the future, as there is currently an industry shortage of qualified truckers.

The Registry will be a critical tool in ensuring that new drivers entering the industry will not pose a threat to innocent motorists around them due to medical conditions such as sleep apnea, or any other condition which could cause the truck driver to lose control of the vehicle.

This is a great initiative which holds a lot of promise. Hopefully, this new Registry will help keep unsound drivers off of the road, and ultimately prevent crashes and save lives.

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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