Commercial truck drivers are professionals. They have special training and they are educated at schools dedicated to the specifics of driving a large, heavy vehicle at high speeds in all sorts of weather and on all kinds of terrain. They must have a special kind of license before they can work as a trucker (a “CDL,” or Commercial Driver’s License).
And as of yesterday, all commercial truck drivers that drive across a state line in the course of their job must have their required physicals (mandated by the Department of Transportation) done only by someone who is listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.
The real question is, will this reduce semi-truck crashes?
Physicals for Truckers Isn’t New
It’s been the law for awhile now that commercial truck drivers — anyone driving a big rig, semi truck, 18-wheeler, tractor-trailer, bus, motorcoach, or other large truck — must go to see a doctor every 24 months or two years and get checked out. Anyone with a CDL who drives interstate routes has to have one.
These biannual physicals have doctors looking for things that might endanger these commercial drivers while they are at work behind the wheel. The physicals are checking for things like:
- Muscle condition and overall body health (ability to move, etc.)
- Eye health and vision (able to see – glasses are okay)
- Ear health and hearing (able to hear – hearing aides are generally okay)
- Cardiovascular health (heart is okay)
- Respiratory health (lungs are okay)
Only Certain People Can Do These Physicals Now
What has changed recently is that not only do the commercial truck drivers have to have these physicals, now they have less of a choice of who they see because these DOT-required physicals must be done by someone who is on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.
This registry was set up by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association as part of a plan to fight against crashes and traffic accidents involving these large commercial vehicles where often people are seriously injured or killed. Only those health care providers who have met the criteria and have applied and been accepted into the National Registry can perform DOT physicals for truckers and bus drivers now.
American Trucking Association Request for Delay Was Denied
Earlier this month, the American Trucking Assocation wrote a formal request to Anne Ferro, FMCSA Administrator, asking that the implementation of this new requirement be delayed. The truckers organization argued that while FMCSA had estimated a need of 20,000 – 23,000 medical examiners to meet the need for truck driver physical certificates in 2014, the ATA has determined that less than 15,000 medical examiners were on the National Registry on the eve of the new Rule Requirement (May 21).
Of particular importance, ATA had determined that there are large amounts of rural areas where there simply is no National Registry Medical Examiner available to do a physical.
The unavailability of certified medical examiners is a real concern for the ATA and they forwarded their backup data to the FMCSA.
The response, in yesterday’s press release from FMCSA:
“Safety is our highest priority and it is vital that every commercial truck and bus driver be qualified, alert, and focused when they are behind the wheel,” said Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Medical examiners equipped with a thorough understanding of DOT fitness standards will be able to ensure that commercial drivers meet the health requirements necessary to operate on our highways and roads, thereby strengthening safety for every traveler.”
“We have certified thousands of health professionals to conduct driver exams – with more being added every day,” said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “The online database is easily searchable so drivers can schedule their medical certification exam with a qualified healthcare professional wherever they might be – coast to coast, including Hawaii and Alaska.”
What Does This Mean?
As of today, commercial truck drivers who need to have physicals in 2014 are going to have a bit of a hard time and maybe a long drive to get seen by someone who is okayed to do the physical by a medical professional who has been accepted into the National Registry.
Being in good health is good for truck drivers and bus drivers — and their safety means the safety of all of us on the roads with these big machines.
However, if the ATA is correct here, then these professionals – who already bear a big burden in their day to day work – are going to have to bear additional time and expense to find someone who’s certified to perform those DOT physicals this year. From the ATA numbers, that may be a big amount of time — and there’s the question of whether or not the prices are going to jump for physicals now, too.