Allowing drivers to self-report their own medical history is a flawed concept and part of a broken system
CBS News has completed an investigation into self-reporting loopholes that are allowing drivers with medical conditions to circumvent systems designed to keep them off congested highways. The question CBS is seemingly posing: Is the system working in the best interests of safety?
The news network tracked the story of Ruthie Allen, a passenger on a Greyhound bus traveling on the Ohio interstate. The bus veered off the highway, rolled and crashed. Allen sustained a gruesome leg injury. After the crash, police discovered that the driver had been told by a medical examiner to get a sleep apnea exam. He failed to do so. He also failed to disclose the information on federal documents that helped him land the job. Sleep apnea is one of the many conditions that would have disqualified him from operating the bus.
Now in the aftermath, Allen is left with a chronic injury and a long road to recovery.
A commercial driver’s eligibility is determined by filling out a questionnaire, which is the basis for a physical performed by a Department of Transportation-certified medical professional. The examiner can range from a chiropractor to an entomologist to a sleep apnea specialist. As of now, the questionnaire relies on drivers to disclose a comprehensive account of their medical history.
But it’s what many specialists aren’t finding that led CBS to do some digging. The network ultimately uncovered that many drivers fail to disclose dangerous medical conditions that would, according to federal guidelines, prevent them from operating a commercial vehicle. Should it come as a surprise that drivers are unwilling to share details that would end up costing them a job?
Self-reporting – or failing to self-report – is a problem that regulators have continuously struggled to overcome. But it’s only getting harder as employers look to fill jobs and fill them quickly, a fact that some believe is influencing both the industry and federal oversight committees to look the other way. According to CBS, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration granted 2,390 medical exemptions in 2013-2014 for things like diabetes, seizures, and vision and hearing loss—all of which would normally prevent drivers from operating a large vehicle.
Our friend and attorney, Steve Gursten of Michigan Auto Law, was featured as part of the CBS investigation and had this to say:
“For the trucking companies, they want to look the other way, even when they know a lot of these truckers really should not be behind the wheel because they’re too dangerous for everybody else on the road. But they need to put drivers behind the wheel so they can get paid.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which maintains that it continues to overhaul a broken system to combat systemic shortcomings, bears some responsibility for the problem, too, and for people like Allen who suffer the consequences. At a time when the industry faces a record shortage of drivers, horror stories like Allen’s is giving the public renewed reason to question whether the industry is doing all it can to make safety a priority,
“You’re allowing this person, who could possibly kill people, drive a weapon on the highway,” Allen told CBS. “And it’s just not right.”