Trucker age, weight limits not on FMCSA radar, for now

| 12/3/2009

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has no immediate plans to institute specific weight or age limits, the agency’s medical division announced Wednesday.

On Dec. 2, FMCSA webcast a roundtable discussion on issues facing commercial drivers, including medical certification. During the discussion, many questions were answered by Benisse Lester, M.D., who was introduced Monday as the agency’s new chief medical officer.

The discussion was facilitated by Elaine Papp and Maggie Gunnels of FMCSA’s medical division.

Answers to questions included the following:

  • FMCSA isn’t considering an age cap on commercial drivers, the panelists said, but the agency’s future proposed rule changes includes plans to consider age as a guidance factor.
  • Similarly, the experts clarified that no federal weight limit exists for drivers, though obesity is something medical examiners should consider during DOT physicals.
  • Regarding the health privacy act better known as HIPAA, medical information belongs to patients and can’t be automatically pulled by motor carriers, the panelists said. Drivers have the ability to sign a release of medical information in employment agreements.

Several health statistics on Americans as a whole were presented, along with hints on age.

“With aging, there is a natural increase in occurrence of (disease and conditions),” Lester said.

The panelists, however, shied away from outright bans based on weight and age.

“Medical requirements should be performance based and linked to safe operation,” the panelists said.

OOIDA has expressed concerns about several Medical Review Board proposals and has participated in the board’s public meetings, which have included failed attempts to link a driver’s body mass index to driver safety and an age cap for commercial drivers, among other controversial topics.

Panelists clarified Wednesday that the Medical Review Board is advisory in nature and does not have authority to formally propose or adopt new rules for commercial drivers.

OOIDA’s Tom Weakley watched Wednesday’s discussion and said he appreciated the clarification of the Medical Review Board’s role.

“It’s important to understand that the Medical Review Board only makes recommendations and does not make regulations,” said Weakley director of operations for the OOIDA Foundation. “They are of course considered and aren’t to be taken lightly, but they are not automatically accepted by FMCSA.”

The panel’s discussion of sleep apnea revealed that regulations already require DOT physicals to include checks of potential apnea symptoms, Weakley said.

“It’s already in the regs,” Weakley said. “They certainly emphasized that the medical officer, especially after the registry of medical examiners is enforced, will be trained to look for those things. I hope that puts a damper on this push to have mandatory sleep apnea testing.”

Several questions sent to the panelists were related to sleep apnea, body mass index and last year’s recommendation by the agency’s Medical Review Board that drivers with body mass indexes of 30 or greater undergo expensive sleep apnea exams.

In addition another roundtable on general driver health information slated for Dec. 16, FMCSA will soon host another forum specifically related to driver fatigue and sleep apnea, Gunnels said.

Land Line Magazine revealed a long relationship between one Medical Review Board member and the sleep study industry in November.

OOIDA’s Melissa Rohan, who attends the Medical Review Board’s quarterly meetings, said the roundtable seemed to be meant to educate those unfamiliar with trucking.

“Clearly this is in response to the poor media they’re getting,” Rohan, OOIDA associate director of government affairs.

FMCSA’s medical examiner registry is set to be implemented in January 2012. The agency is in the process of proposing rule changes for diabetes, vision and musculoskeletal conditions, panelists said.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer