Despite an increasing focus on trucking and bus safety, quality medical certification of commercial vehicle drivers remains a problem says the newly formed National Academy of DOT Medical Examiners (NADME).
NADME is a non-profit organization of medical, transportation and safety stakeholders seeking to ensure that quality medical certifications are given to drivers by creating a registry of providers knowledgeable on DOT medical requirements for commercial vehicle drivers. NADME seeks to issue a national standardized test to certify an examiner’s proficiency in DOT standards before listing them in the registry.
“We find there’s a large percentage where the actual [physical] examination is wrought with error with findings that are incorrect, had information missing, examinations incomplete,” Peter Van Beek, NADME vice president told Fleet Owner.
According to a national audit performed on approximately 6,000 medical examinations drivers, 14% were found to have such problems, he continued. “Literally, there were examinations that had to be reversed because the driver didn’t pass on a local level. Almost 25% of the physicals reviewed found that the exams were incomplete or missing critical info. This includes exams conducted by occupational medical doctors as well as physician assistants so it cuts across various groups of people.”
“The whole issue is medical examiner proficiency as it relates to the DOT physical,” Bob Hirsch, NADME president told Fleet Owner. “For example, somebody could be a highly competent doctor but still not be familiar with DOT requirements. As a result, [unqualified drivers] could fall in between the cracks in the physical exams and in the conclusions the doctors reach.”
“There is no course requirement for DOT examiners,” Jeff Liva, a NADME board member and specialist in occupational medicine told Fleet Owner. “Most of these physicians are not aware of DOT rules. In many cases [these examinations] are performed as a courtesy service for people already coming in for a physical exams. A good analogy is that it’s like going for a camp physical— they fill out the form and sign off on a card not realizing they have to meet federal standards.”
“Most exams are done by doctors who do fewer than ten exams per year,” Liva continued. “The large carriers are sophisticated enough to have qualified DOT examiners but most carriers that probably have less than 10 people are not going to have a designated medical examiner. It’s not that doctors are being malicious— they’re not aware of the requirements and there is lack of education of the DOT requirements.”
There are steps being taken at the federal level towards upping the quality of such physical exams. The Senate version of the highway bill includes language pertaining to a listing of medical examiners, Hirsch noted. Also blood pressure language on medical forms for evaluating truck drivers was revised by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last year to inform examiners of the suggested thresholds.
But with capacity issues dogging the trucking industry, the pressure to fill driver’s seats may impact the medical legitimacy of drivers, NADME said.
“With any driver shortage, especially when we’re in a time of great demand, of course any opportunity to keep a driver will be looked at with great urgency on the part of a company,” said Van Beek. “We should look at this as an opportunity to make sure a driver doesn’t slip into a position where he’d stop driving because of a medical issue. Let’s find this out ahead of time to make treatments and adjustments that would continue to allow him to drive safely.”
To visit NADME’s website, go to www.nadme.org.