We recently reported on the dangers of sleep apnea in truck drivers and the lack of federal oversight regarding the testing and treatment of truckers who may have have obstructive sleep apnea–subsequently impacting their job performances.
Now, a new audit from the Department of Transportation Inspector General has discovered particular weaknesses regarding the federal monitoring of medical examiner qualifications–the examiners that determine whether or not a truck driver can properly and safely operate a commercial motor vehicle based on the driver’s physical qualifications.
“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s ability to oversee whether drivers meet physical qualification standards to safely operate a commercial vehicle is limited because of a lengthy outage of the [Medical Examiners] National Registry and a resulting backlog of driver examination reports that were not entered into the Registry,” said the audit released by the Inspector General. “Furthermore, FMCSA has not fully implemented requirements for random periodic monitoring of medical examiners’ eligibility and performance.”
Additionally, “data-quality issues, including missing records,” along with other data accuracy holes and mistakes “limit the effectiveness of FMCSA’s oversight,” the audit continued, explaining that this weakness was a result of driver examination reports not being documented properly, leading to a seven-month registry outage beginning at the tail end of 2017.
“Because of the outage and technical issues in relaunching the National Registry, we estimate that approximately 780,000 driver examinations could be missing from the database,” said the document. “FMCSA is building a new National Registry, but it is unclear when it will be complete.”
To become certified in conducting examinations of truck drivers, physicians and other medical professionals have to begin the certification process by registering, and also must be already licensed in the state in which they will be performing examinations. Additionally, they must meet testing and training requirements.
“Our analysis of National Registry data indicated that 46% of its 70,208 records of certified medical examiners as of May 2019 had outdated medical license information,” said the audit. “Additionally, our analysis of two separate samples totaling 452 driver examinations from three state driver’s licensing agencies we visited found that 21% were not recorded in the National Registry.”
Currently, a Department of Transportation physical examination for a trucker is valid for up to two years, and a trucker may also be given a medical examiner’s certificate for less than the two-year period if the examiner aims to monitor a particular condition.
“Of critical importance, certified medical examiners must submit to the National Registry reports of the results of driver examinations they perform and the medical certificates they issue to qualified drivers,” continued the audit, which also indicated that FMCSA has yet to implement yearly eligibility audits following certification, although it has conducted these initial certification reviews in regards to the eligibility and certification qualifications of medical examiners.
“Without these oversight reviews, FMCSA may be missing fraud indicators or other risks that may require mitigation and has less assurance that drivers are physically qualified to safely operate a commercial vehicle,” said the document.
Over the last six and half years, 14 fraudulent medical certificate convictions have come from Office of Inspector general investigations, and the IG claims that finding and preventing medical certificate fraud is still a top priority.
For example, a Georgia medical examiner’s record falsifications caused more than 600 drivers to have to renew their medical certificates in August 2017. In January 2019, a scheme to enter fake driver examinations to the Registry resulted in an Alabama medical examiner being sentenced to more than three years in prison and fined $10,000, with two workers sentenced to a total of five years of probation for their participation in the scam. From that fraud, FMCSA required more than 2,100 drivers to renew their medical certificates, as well.
Some technical updates are set to be completed by the end of March, the agency assured, and all IG audit recommendations are estimated to be implemented by June 30th, 2023.
“A fully-functional National Registry is a priority under the FMCSA IT Modernization Plan,” said the agency, noting that its interim Registry system can only currently offer partial functionality. “FMCSA plans to award a contract to rebuild the National Registry in the second quarter of fiscal-year 2021.”