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Poor Health Among Long-Haul Truck Drivers Can Spell Danger on the Road

Guy in a truck

As we’ve blogged about previously, large commercial trucks like 18-wheeler tractor-trailers can do immense damage on the road if they’re not driven with the utmost care and attention. It is for this reason that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the body tasked with regulating interstate commercial transport, closely regulates who may obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and the hours those licensed drivers may work. One of the ways that the FMCSA attempts to ensure that long-haul truck drivers are a safe presence on the road is by requiring that all drivers pass a medical examination prior to obtaining a license. However, the health requirements imposed by federal law on drivers can be evaded through multiple mechanisms, putting themselves and others on the road at risk.

The medical examination imposed by federal regulation is intended as a thorough overview of the health of an applicant for a CDL. Conducted by a Department of Transportation-certified physician, this examination is targeted to determine whether a driver has a sufficient level of health and strength to be able to operate an up-to-80,000 lb. truck for long spans of time without losing consciousness or feeling in their hands or feet. The FMCSA publishes a list of conditions which drivers should not have when attempting to obtain a CDL, including nerve or movement damage to the hands or feet, severe high blood pressure, severe sleep disorders, or a heart condition.

While doctors will examine a candidate as closely as possible, the candidates must themselves provide a complete and accurate medical history that includes any history of suffering from these conditions. As you might guess, a candidate for a job has a low motivation to disclose a diagnosis that could bar them from getting that job. Experts suggest that the FMCSA should instead implement a system that does not rely on drivers to self-disclose conditions that could make them a danger on the road, but rather independently verifies their medical background for increased reliability.

Additionally problematic is the increasingly poor health of the average truck driver. One study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the rate of obesity, chronic fatigue, and the presence of risk factors for heart disease were twice as high among truck drivers as among the population as a whole. Due to the increased demand and shortage of available workers in the field of commercial truck driving, many of these unwell drivers are receiving waivers to be able to continue or resume their work, despite not meeting the established health criteria. While some drivers are able to manage their conditions safely, others are not—with tragic results. One bus driver who had failed to properly treat his case of sleep apnea became extremely fatigued as a result, nodded off behind the wheel, and sent a bus full of passengers careening over an embankment, killing one and injuring many.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident with a large truck or tractor-trailer, seek the compensation you’re owed for your injuries and contact the skilled and compassionate New Jersey personal injury attorney Andrew R. Jacobs for a free consultation, at 973-532-9681.

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