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Truck driver medical screening and licenses to be linked

In my truck and bus accident law practice in Atlanta, Georgia, I often find truck drivers who were not medically qualified to drive large commercial trucks.

We had one recent case where the driver who caused a crash was blind in one eye, a condition which disqualifies him from even obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License in any state. His lack of depth perception combined with excessive speed led to a head-on collision when he swerved around a vehicle that slowed to turn.

In another case the truck driver had COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), which also is a disqualifying condition. I took the deposition of his personal physician who testified that he had told the truck driver to use supplemental oxygen at all times, 24/7, and that it was unsafe for him to drive a truck.

We also see truckers whose medical conditions require them to take medications with side effects that make it dangerous for them to drive.

Now the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is taking a step in the right direction. It will require states to merge commerical truck and bus drivers licenses and drivers’ medical examination certificates into a single electronic record. 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.

As I said earlier, this is a step in the right direction. However, it apparently will not require the examiners to look at the drivers’ personal medical records. Thus, there is little protection against drivers concealing a history 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 a Georgia trial lawyer whose practice is focused on cases of catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death arising from commercial truck and bus accidents. He has served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute, and is a frequent speaker at national continuing legal education programs on trucking liability cases. Mr. Shigley 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,). He served a decade on the faculty of the Emory University Law School Trial Techniques Program. 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.