Are Commercial Drivers Concealing Medical Conditions with Deadly Results?
Motorists and commuters generally expect truck drivers and other commercial drivers to be some of the best and most experienced drivers on the roads. After all, dedicated commercial drivers are on the road day in and day out and routinely handle large vehicles that many would never dream of operating. While it is true that commercial drivers must be highly trained and experienced to perform their job, they are only human. They are subject to all the same health and mental conditions that can make performing one’s job safety more difficult or impossible.
A recent CBS News This Morning report investigated the situation regarding drivers failing to disclose serious medical conditions or failing to adhere to medical treatment. These steps can result in drivers being improperly declared fit to drive. This post is intended to add additional context to the driver medical fitness evaluation process and additional details relevant to commercial driving and highway safety.
How Does the Government Screen for Commercial Driver Fitness?
As a condition of becoming a licensed commercial vehicle operator, a driver must submit to and successfully pass a medical exam. Passing the medical exam entitles the driver to obtain a valid Medical Examiner’s Certificate (ME Certificate). This certificate must be maintained at all times the driver is engaged in the commercial operation of a motor vehicle. Drivers with a CDL operating vehicles requiring a license of this type must also engage in additional steps to achieve and maintain their medical fitness to drive. Generally, they must self-certify with their State Driver Licensing Agency (SDLA) and provide the DSLA with a copy of their ME Certificate.
Submission of the ME Certificate to the SDLA is intended to leverage the fact that, as of January 30, 2015, all states now post minimal medical certification information. This permits a motor carrier to assess whether the driver is medically qualified to drive commercially. Furthermore, while most states are actually posting complete CDLIS MVR with all the required MedCert information, all states are working towards this goal.
Simply because a driver has a medical condition, does not mean that he or she is prohibited from driving. Certain medical conditions may not affect the driver’s ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle. However, if a driver’s medical condition does result in one or more of the FMCSRs preventing him or her from operating a commercial motor vehicle, the driver may still request a waiver or exemption.
CBS Report Indicates that Some CMV Drivers Are Not Truthful During the Medical Evaluations
However, FMCSA’s and DOT’s medical screening processes are severely hampered by drivers who are not forthcoming during medical evaluations or who cease their prescribed treatment. The CBS report described two drivers that failed to properly engage in this process and the deadly consequences that resulted.
The first account involves a Greyhound bus driver, Dwayne Garrett. Mr. Garrett allegedly blacked out while driving his bus while 35 passengers were aboard. According to Mr. Garrett, he claimed that he was drinking coffee when he started coughing and then blacked out. However, there is no coughing heard on the bus’s dash camera. A possible explanation for the situation lies in a medical evaluation that Mr. Garret underwent just weeks earlier. Here, the examining doctor determined that Mr. Garrett had the markers for potential sleep apnea – a condition that can lead to a loss of consciousness and disqualifies a driver from operating a CMV. However, Garrett was permitted a 90-day waiver to get tested. While seeing his personal physician he allegedly failed to disclose the marker, symptoms, and a recommendation to get a sleep study. Following the bus crash, Garrett was ordered by a court to undergo a sleep study where it was found that he had sleep apnea and was not eligible to drive commercially.
In another commercial vehicle wreck where Greyhound driver Curtis Woods hit a pickup truck causing the death of its driver, numerous problems were later discovered. To start, CBS reports that Woods failed to disclose to the DOT that he had at least three conditions that would disqualify him from driving: deteriorating vision, alcoholic hepatitis, and sleep apnea. Furthermore, Woods admitted that he had stopped using his APAP or CPAP machine intended to manage the condition.
Unfortunately, the CBS news report states that it is unclear how widespread accident caused by non-disclosures or failure to maintain treatment are neither the federal government nor the state governments track crashes caused by drivers with medical conditions. However, it is clear that there is a tension in a medical evaluation process that requires drivers to be honest about conditions that could disqualify them from work.
Injured by a Commercial Bus or Truck? Trust a Truck Accident Lawyer with Your Case
If you have suffered a severe injury due to a medically unfit commercial driver, the truck accident lawyers of Reiff Law Firm’s The Truck Accident Team may be able to help. Whether the crash was caused by failure to maintain treatment for sleep apnea or another disorder, we may be able to fight for the injury victims. To schedule a confidential, no-obligation consultation with the lawyers of Reiff Law Firm call (215) 246-9000 today or contact us online.