The Alarm Has Sounded!

by Adam Haight , IWIRC Corp.

Remember the following from an April 2012 press release by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood?

A "new safety rule that requires healthcare professionals who perform medical examinations for interstate truck and bus drivers to be... certified on the specific physical qualifications that affect a driver's ability to safely operate the vehicle. The final rule also creates a national online database of medical examiners who have completed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) certification process.”

I am writing this article in June 2014, and the rules announced by Secretary LaHood are now in effect.

As I wrote in an October 2012 iBi article, these DOT physical criteria are nothing new, although many physicians never followed the guidelines when clearing truck drivers to drive the 18-wheelers we pass—or are passed by—every day. Nationally, this lack of awareness or compliance by medical providers was determined by the DOT to be a contributing factor to an increasing mortality rate on America's roadways.

The new statute has led to a drastic decrease in the number of medical examiners offering DOT physicals. Under the old statute, any medical provider could perform a DOT physical. At this moment, there are only 26 providers within a 25-mile radius of Peoria—stretching from Canton to Eureka and Hopedale to Lacon, and everywhere in between.

Some companies employing these drivers have not anticipated or prepared for a potential reduction in their driving force, believing the physical is only required every two years. Unfortunately, this thought process is flawed. In reality, a driver can be cleared for as few as three months, depending on his or her medical status, and medical clearance for less than two years is very common. In fact, approximately one in four drivers has to be screened and cleared more often than two years. This means that many of those drivers who were cleared to drive just before the new statute went into effect in May will again require a medical evaluation under the new statutes.

Right now, it is likely that many drivers on the road were cleared by providers who did not follow the guidelines; they will lose their certification when certified examiners conduct the next exam. It is important to note that employers are, by statute, responsible for ensuring the medical examiner performing their DOT physicals is certified. Therefore, they need to take an active role in knowing where their drivers are being certified to avoid rapid reductions in force over the next two years—as well as potential litigation.

Private school bus drivers, such as First Student and Illinois Central School Bus around Peoria, are not exempt from these rules, as they must meet both DOT and State of Illinois criteria to operate a school bus. No such registry exists for school bus drivers who only need to carry the State of Illinois School Bus endorsement.

The requirements and timeframes for these truck and bus driver physicals are now here, and mechanisms are in place to audit and enforce these rules. Employers with these drivers: it is vitally important to know that the Department of Transportation has sounded the alarm. Don’t press snooze! iBi