In 2013 Pam Perry nurse consultant at FMCSA Medical Programs fielded questions from truckers and owner operators at the Heart of America Trucking Show as to why they could no longer see their own personal physician for their DOT physical exam; What exactly is a certified medical examiner and what his or her specialty is supposed to be? Some even thought that it was “stupid” to create a Registry of medical examiners for truckers. Well her answer, as follows from this Landline Magazine article was:
“Congress mandated it and told FMCSA to “get it done.”
This mandate came after a terrible bus crash in New Orleans in 1999 that killed 22 people, otherwise known as the “Mother’s Day” crash as detailed in an article on 08/29/2001 from NOLA.com “Loophole lets sick man drive, safety board says Bedell was certified despite heart, kidney disease report says”. There was of course lawsuits and settlements and very strong reactions from safety lobby groups. This accident would forever change the way the federal government regulated bus and truck drivers. The driver in question, who died 3 months after the accident (reportedly due to his chronic ailments), had many serious longstanding medical conditions that not only should have disqualified him from commercial driving but also from holding a CDL. He was only 46 y.o. and suffered from stage IV congestive heart failure. As per the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) report he was treated for health problems 20 times in the past 21 months, with half of the treatments involving serious hospitalizations with life threatening kidney and heart diseases. In other words because he had a serious chance of becoming suddenly and severely incapacitated and would have most likely died an early death from his medical conditions, he should have never been behind the wheel. Reportedly, only a nursing student made a no work recommendation when she saw that he was sweating profusely and was tachycardic. She referred him to his cardiologist who later cleared him to return to work. The NTSB concluded the cause of the accident being:
“the driver’s incapacitation due to his severe medical conditions and the failure of the medical certification process to detect and remove the driver from service. Other factors that may have had a role in the accident were the driver’s fatigue and the driver’s use of marijuana and a sedating antihistamine.”
It was determined that the current medical evaluation system for drivers at that time was filled with loopholes. This led to the The NTSB’s recommendation to the federal government that doctors who perform commercial driver medical examinations be aware of the medical conditions that can impair a person’s ability to operate a bus or truck. The NTSB also recommended that a system should be developed that will allow employers and state regulators to learn about a driver’s previous failed medical exams and drug tests.