Truck drivers’ medical exams to be linked to commercial drivers license records

As a trucking trial lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, I too often find truck drivers who were not medically qualified to drive large commercial trucks.

We had one recent case in which the truck driver had chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, which was a disqualifying condition. His own physician testified that he was supposed to use supplemental oxygen  24/7, and that it was unsafe for him to drive a large truck. The lack of oxygen going to his brain apparently affected his judgment, as he pulled out into freeway traffic directly in front of our client, even though he saw our client driving at the speed limit about 100 feet away and vehicles occupying the other lanes.

In another case,  a truck driver who caused a head-on collision crash was blind in one eye, which is a permanently disqualifying condition under the Commercial Drivers License rules.  With no depth perception and excessive speed, he did not perceive that a leading vehicle was slowing and stopping to  to turn, despite the flashing turn signal, and passed on a double yellow line at an intersection in order to avoid striking the leading vehicle. Our client was in the oncoming lane approaching the intersection.

We also see cases in which truck drivers were on prescription medications  with side effects that make affected their alertness and judgment in driving.

Now the<a href="http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2008/12/04/96037.htm"> Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is taking at least a step in the right direction. It will require states to merge commercial truck and bus drivers licenses and drivers’ medical examination certificates into a single electronic record</a>. Linking the two will enable states to check whether drivers have met medical requirements to operate commercial vehicles. The FMCSA also proposed creating a list of medical examiners qualified to award certificates to drivers. A study released earlier this year found hundreds of thousands of drivers operating trucks and buses even though they had qualified for Social Security medical disability payments.

While this is a step in the right direction, it does not go quite far enough. It apparently will not require the medical examiners to look at the drivers’ medical records. Thus, there is little protection against  concealment  of disqualifying conditions that may not be immediately apparent in an exam.

There is also no requirement to screen for chronic obstructive sleep apnea, which is common among truck drivers and contributes to an untold number of fatigue-related crashes. However, we often see truckers who resist even going to a doctor for evaluation because they known diagnosis could endanger their driving jobs. I can certainly understand the fears of such drivers, but any disqualifying condition that is left untreated can pose a lethal risk to other motorists on the highway.

 

 Ken Shigley is an Atlanta, Georgia trial attorney with a practice is focused on cases of catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death arising from commercial truck and bus accidents. He is a former chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute, and is a frequent speaker at national continuing legal education programs on trucking liability cases. He has been rated as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine), one of the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine), and a Certified Civil Trial Advocate (National Board of Trial Advocacy,).  Mr. Shigley is currently Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia.  To increase capacity for handling more and larger cases, he recently became "of counsel" with the law firm of Chambers, Aholt & Rickard which has an extensive trucking liability practice.