NTSB pushes for tougher DOT exams

| Friday, August 31, 2001

The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending that commercial drivers pass tougher physicals in order to get behind the wheel. The recommendation concludes a report on a 1999 bus crash that killed 22 people in which the driver was discovered to be in extremely poor health.

The NTSB report said "the failure of the medical certification process to remove unfit drivers is a systematic, not an isolated problem." Among the agency's conclusions:

  • Individuals who are authorized to perform medical examinations and certify interstate commercial drivers as fit to drive may lack knowledge and information critical to certification decisions. Consequently, drivers with serious medical conditions may not be evaluated sufficiently to determine whether their condition poses a risk to highway safety.
  • The regulations on the medical certification of interstate commercial drivers do not reflect current medical knowledge and information and can be ambiguous regarding the conditions that may constitute disqualification.
  • Not all individuals who are authorized to perform medical examinations and certify commercial drivers as fit to drive are made aware of information sources that could assist them with certification decisions.
  • Enforcement authorities cannot, in most instances, determine the validity of a medical certificate during safety inspections and routine stops because of the absence of procedures or information sources to validate the medical certificate itself.
  • The inability to authenticate the information on a medical certificate hampers enforcement authorities in their ability to identify unfit drivers and place them out of service.

The board recommended that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration develop a medical oversight initiative for interstate commercial drivers. The agency said the program should make sure that those who are performing the medical exams are qualified to do so and are educated about occupational issues for drivers. It also recommended that states develop similar programs for intrastate commercial drivers.

The board also recommended setting up a national database for prospective employers to consult with to find out whether an applicant has previously failed a drug test.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees the truck and bus industry, plans to review the NTSB recommendations, spokesman Dave Longo said.

To view the complete report visit www.ntsb.gov/Publictn/2001/HAR0101.htm.

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