OOIDA petitions for extension of medical certification rule

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 11/30/2015

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association contends a final rule regarding medical certification for truck drivers is not ready for implementation and has taken steps to prevent it.

On Nov. 25, OOIDA filed a petition for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to extend the Dec. 22 deadline to implement the rule until the issues are resolved.

OOIDA originally filed a petition for reconsideration May 22 on the final rule that includes a new medical history form and requires medical examiners to transmit the results of Department of Transportation physicals within 24 hours of the exam.

“The motivation for the extension is our belief that the current system included in the medical registry is not up to speed as to the actual requirements and regulations for driver physicals,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said. “It is also our understanding that clearly the communication that should be taking place between the agency and the medical examiners is flawed in many ways to put it kindly. No matter how well-meaning their efforts may be, the casualties of this inefficient system are going to be people who drive trucks. That shouldn’t happen.”

In the final rule, the agency retooled the driver health history portion of the medical history form to include a number of new questions. The agency expanded the medical history criteria and incorporated those criteria into the regulations. A new medical form in the final rule now has 32 health conditions listed under the medical history portion of the rule. Of those conditions, 13 are new to the form.

The new form also modified the duration of the medical history from five years to lifetime. The form now states: “Do you have or have you ever had ...” The new conditions to the form include high cholesterol; chronic cough; shortness of breath or other breathing problems; unexplained weight loss; bone, muscle, joint or nerve problems; blood clots or bleeding problems; chronic infection or other chronic diseases; problems staying awake; loud snoring; sleep apnea; have you ever had a sleep test; have you ever spent a night in the hospital; have you ever been treated for a mental health problem; and have you ever had a broken bone.

“Instead of providing consistent and uniform medical exams based on DOT standards, CMEs (Certified Medical Examiners) are too often subjecting drivers to inconsistent and non-uniform evaluations,” the Nov. 25 petition from OOIDA states. “Drivers are being held to arbitrary standards not specified in the DOT physical requirements. These practices pull safe drivers off the road for protracted periods of time and force them to spend thousands of dollars on unwarranted tests and expensive exams. In worst-case situations, safe driving careers are ended and small businesses are forced to close. OOIDA members have experienced these consequences firsthand on too many occasions.”

OOIDA also contends that the FMCSA has not effectively communicated changes to all certified medical examiners. The petition states that a recent email sent to all CMEs returned about 19,000 addresses as undeliverable.

“FMCSA staff confirmed that they are aware of this issue and are working to fix it,” the petition states. “Without crucial information in their hands regarding the changes on Dec. 22, CMEs could provide drivers with incorrect forms. In turn, those forms would be rejected by State Driver’s License Agencies. Fixing this problem would require far more than a minor delay.”

The petition also points out that many questions had to be tabled during two recent FMCSA question and answer sessions hosted to educate medical examiners on the upcoming changes.

“The FMCSA’s actions of twice tabling questions point out their awareness of the need to allow the appropriate amount of time to correctly respond to questions, as the matters at hand are complicated and will have grave consequences for all drivers who require medical certifications,” the petition states. “It is absolutely critical that the agency continue to ensure adequate time is allowed to correctly implement this program.”

OOIDA argues that there is not enough time to fix all these problems by Dec. 22. The petition asks the FMCSA to delay the implementation date of the medical certification integration rule until it addresses OOIDA’s pending petition for recertification.

“This is another one of the regulations that its direct connection to crashes and safety is really arguable,” Spencer said. “And it really cries out to the need for a total review of all these regulations. Those that are ineffective in contributing to a safety mission or those that are obsolete and outdated need to be gone. The focus should be on what really matters and those are things that have a direct connection to safety.”

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