FMCSA grants grace period on medical certification rule

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 12/18/2015

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced Friday, Dec. 18 that it has granted medical examiners a 120-day grace period regarding the use of new medical certification forms for truck drivers.

FMCSA’s decision comes less than a month after the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed a petition to extend the Dec. 22 deadline to implement the final rule on medical certification. OOIDA contended that the rule, which includes a new medical history form and requires medical examiners to transmit the results of physicals within 24 hours, was not ready.

“The FMCSA announces a 120-day grace period during with medical examiners may use either the current or the newly revised versions of the medical examination report form and medical examiner’s certificate,” the administration released on Friday. “This period is from Dec. 22, 2015, until April 20, 2016. This action is being taken to ensure that medical examiners have sufficient time to become familiar with the new forms and to program electronic medical records systems.”

OOIDA originally filed a petition for reconsideration of the final rule on May 22 and petitioned to extend the Dec. 22 implementation on Nov. 25.

While OOIDA says the grace period is better than nothing, it believes the change could create even more problems.

“This is not the time to start test driving new forms and procedures when the livelihoods of professional drivers are very likely to be the casualties,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.

“The bottom line: The FMCSA is inviting confusion,” OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Scott Grenerth said. “This can lead to truckers encountering problems because of a confused certified medical examiner. The consequences of that could be at least short-term frustration, or potentially loss of the ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle.

“The form itself still contains the new questions FMCSA had proposed, without further guidance or justification for the relationship of those new questions to the safe operation of a commercial motor vehicle. The agency has not addressed the concerns OOIDA raised in the petition for reconsideration we filed in May of this year.”

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.

“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,” OOIDA’s Nov. 25 petition 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,” the petition states.

OOIDA also contended 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.

 “We know for certain that some CMEs have already ordered the new forms and will be using them,” Grenerth said. “The FMCSA promised five weeks ago that they would publish a FAQ to answer the many questions they have received about the new forms, and especially the new provisions that come with the new forms. With one full business day before the 22nd left, the FAQ has not been published.”

PDF versions of the new driver examination forms weren’t posted until Dec. 14. Both sets of forms have been posted on the FMCSA website, but the new form has not been posted on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners resource website. Only sample forms have been posted.

“While allowing either form to be used for 120 days can be helpful, and most drivers will probably not encounter problems at their state driver license agency, allowing two forms to be acceptable does seem far too likely to invite confusion,” Grenerth said.

“And that confusion only hurts drivers and nobody else. That shouldn’t be,” Spencer added.

Copyright © OOIDA