SPECIAL REPORT: Medical certificates now required in licensing process

| 12/1/2008

Monday, Dec. 1, 2008 – The days of truckers telling state licensing agencies that their medical certifications are current are just about over because of a new regulation issued today.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a final rule that changes the way states must verify the medical certification for truckers either renewing or applying for a CDL. Phased in compliance deadlines for states, motor carriers and truckers start kicking in on Jan. 30, 2012.

Once everything is up and running on the state level, truckers will be required to present either the original or a copy of the current medical examiner’s certificate. The state agency must then date stamp the certification card and return it to the trucker.

The date-stamped card will be sufficient to prove medical certification for 15 days. Within 10 days of stamping the card, the state licensing agency must enter the information into the Commercial Drivers License Information System, according to the new requirement.

States will be required to keep a copy of the stamped card for three years from the date the CDL is issued.

Once the information is entered in the CDLIS system, truckers won’t be required to present the valid medical card for inspections or employment.

Instead, inspectors will have access to the electronic information. Motor carriers won’t even be able to use the medical card anymore to prove a driver’s fitness.

Starting Jan. 30, the motor carriers must keep a copy of the current CDLIS motor vehicle record documenting medical certification status in the driver’s qualification file before allowing the driver behind the wheel.

Truckers will have to stay on top of their medical certification because of the new requirement.

If the certification expires before the CDL, states will be required to update the driver’s CDLIS file to reflect the driver as “not certified.” The driver’s CDL will be downgraded after 60 days of the expiration of the medical certification.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed comments in early 2007 when FMCSA pitched the proposed rulemaking for comment.

The Association did not challenge the requirement for proving medical certification, but did push FMCSA officials to prohibit states or employers from requiring the “long form” in place of the certification card.

Citing extensive privacy concerns, OOIDA pointed out countless people could potentially have access to a driver’s personal medical information contained on the medical “long form.”

“The right to privacy must be balanced against legitimate governmental rights to collect certain information,” Association officials wrote in comments submitted to FMCSA. “Nevertheless, truck drivers still retain a significant privacy interest in remaining free of unwarranted governmental intrusions into their lives.”

In addition to infringing on privacy, OOIDA said that allowing states and employers to require the “long form” could very well undermine highway safety and the quality of medical care truckers receive from their physicians.

OOIDA said more truckers would share sensitive medical information with their physicians if they knew that it wouldn’t wind up in a state or employer file somewhere with potential unfettered access to almost anyone.

“Often, a driver’s desire for medical privacy will outweigh their willingness to openly discuss past or current health issues with the medical examiner knowing than an anonymous, medically untrained state bureaucrat will be able to review their private medical information and potentially suspend or end their driving career for reasons that are either erroneous or unjustifiably exceed the federal medical standards,” Association officials said in the comments to FMCSA.

The Association went on to point out that motor carriers do not need the “long form” to prove certification of their drivers and may only require the “long form” for potential misuse of information it contains.

“OOIDA (protests) allowing the use of the physical qualification standards that include the medical examination report to be perverted into a fishing expedition for damning medical information on drivers’ health by motor carriers,” Association officials said in their comments.

While the new final rule issued by the agency does not require use of the “long form” in obtaining or renewing CDLs or for proof of fitness to motor carriers, the new reg doesn’t prohibit it either.

“OOIDA’s recommendation that employers be prohibited from obtaining the medical examination report (“long form”) is not necessary to prevent infringing upon the employee’s privacy rights,” FMCSA officials wrote in the comments portion of the final rule.

Agency officials went on to say that if an employer required the form and put it in a driver qualification file, agency auditors could ask for the “long form” during an audit.

As far as states requiring the “long form,” FMCSA officials said it was up to state officials to decide if they wanted to implement stricter requirements on medical certification. FMCSA regs are essentially the minimum requirements.

To read the new regulation governing medical certification, click here.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor