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Sick in transit? What to do
You’re driving along, moving your load from point A to point B when it happens. First a little cough, maybe you feel a little flushed. Then a sore throat. Pretty soon it’s clear that you have a full-blown case of the flu.

So what do you do?

“Most over-the-road drivers are under the gun to get those loads delivered, regardless,” said Sharon Mitchell, a nurse at American Business Medical Services inside Jessup TA Truck Stop near Baltimore who regularly dispenses medical information to truckers online under her screen name, Nurse Red. “They’ll push themselves when they really shouldn’t be driving — they should be laying down, resting, drinking fluids, and either they won’t, or dispatch won’t let them.”

What the regs say

From the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations Section 392.3: Ill or fatigued operator

“No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.

“However, in a case of grave emergency where the hazard to occupants of the commercial motor vehicle or other users of the highway would be increased by compliance with this section, the driver may continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle to the nearest place at which that hazard is removed.”

But resting is exactly what they should do, said Gary Green with OOIDA’s Business Services.

While most leases do not contain a clause that would allow a driver to get off the road if he or she becomes sick while driving, Green said the federal regulations are very clear about the matter. (See box.)

Mitchell’s heard plenty from drivers over the years. Many have told her that if they do pull over when sick, dispatchers theaten them, telling them if they’re so sick they can’t drive, they should go to the hospital.

For drivers who find themselves in that situation, Green said, “I would contact my dispatcher, tell them I have the flu, I cannot operate this vehicle safely.”

If the carrier tries to make the driver continue despite the illness, Green said the driver should call OSHA and file a report, and should consider contacting the U.S. Department of Transportation and filing a report there as well.

Green was not sure how carriers would react to drivers who contract the flu. However, he did say he had not heard of anyone who was fired because they contracted the illness.

If you do get the flu, Mitchell said, take care of yourself. Rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat a healthy diet and take Tylenol to reduce fever.

“And if you have to shut that truck down,” she said, “shut it down.”