Pack n send is posting this article written by Ryan Phillios at News 21 as a service to your customers. We found the entire article published on msn.com. While the trucking industry is making improvements, it looks like the DOT still has a way to go as far as monitoring its own policies.
Trucker Bob Caffee needed a medical card fast. His certificate from the U.S. Department of Transportation was to expire in two days, and he was in Southern California, halfway across the country from his regular doctor. So Caffee headed to one of the medical clinics that have sprung up at truck stops across America.
The clinic in Ontario, Calif., where Caffee stopped, is housed in a small, rundown building next to a Travel Centers of America truck stop. A sign advertises "DOT Physicals" next to a picture of a red truck.
"You say, 'I need a DOT physical,'" and the assistant says, "'OK, come back here and I’ll call the doctor,'" Caffee said.
About this project
- This project was reported by journalism students in the Carnegie-Knight News 21 program in collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization.
The two of them checked his blood pressure, urine, breathing, hearing and vision. Caffee remembers that he had trouble reading past the top two lines of the eye chart. "I told her I wear glasses, and she OK'd me," he said, even though his driver's license didn’t say he was required to wear glasses.
The whole thing was over in 20 minutes, and Caffee emerged with a medical certificate that states he is healthy enough to drive a commercial truck for the next two years. Cost of exam: $30.
The exam Caffee underwent is required for all interstate commercial drivers. However, in many states, almost any health professional, including chiropractors, physician assistants, osteopathic doctors and advance practice nurses, can issue medical certificates for truck drivers. There are no training requirements and only minimal standards for what to check.
If a trucker is denied by one doctor, he can easily try another. There is no database to check whether medical certificates are valid, or whether a driver is "doctor shopping."
Drivers can download a medical certificate from the Internet and fill it out themselves. Others don’t bother getting a medical certificate — genuine or false. Few are ever caught. A trucker caught without a certificate is often given a fine — and allowed to drive on.
The problem of medically unqualified commercial drivers first drew national attention in 1999 when a bus driver veered off Interstate 610 near New Orleans, struck a guardrail, went through a chain-link fence, vaulted over a golf cart path and rammed into a dirt embankment, killing 22 of the 43 passengers on board.
The driver, who had a current medical certificate, had been in and out of the hospital the day before for treatment of his kidneys. He was released less than eight hours before reporting to work, according to an NTSB report. Post-accident tests were positive for marijuana and an over-the-counter sleep medication that can cause drowsiness and dizziness. A passenger reported seeing the driver "slouch down" prior to the accident.
- Findings of the News21 investigation include:
- The National Transportation Safety Board has essentially given up on 1,952 of its safety recommendations – one of every six it has made since 1967.
- Federal agencies, states and transportation industries are taking longer than ever to act. Over the past decade, the average number of years to implement recommendations went from 3.4 years to 5.4 years.
The accident prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to issue a series of stern recommendations in 2002 to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, whose primary mission is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.
Specifically, the board directed the FMCSA, part of the Department of Transportation, to "prevent medically unqualified drivers from operating commercial vehicles" and "establish a medical oversight program for all interstate commercial drivers."
Mitch Garber, a NTSB medical officer, said the FMCSA’s response to the board’s calls for tougher medical standards has been disappointing. The agency has addressed a few problems, but the approach has been piecemeal and largely ineffective, he said.
"It’s no more difficult for a medically unqualified driver to drive today than when the recommendation was made," Garber said.