Many in trucking believe the long-awaited final rule issued this week by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) establishing a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (NRCME) represents “a good first step” in an effort to create standards for the practitioners that medically certify truck drivers for work.
Yet it also creates burdensome paperwork issues for drivers and carriers as well, which industry experts hope will be solved going forward.
“On balance this rule is definitely a positive, but we don’t believe it should be the final step,” Boyd Stephenson, manager-safety and security operations for the American Trucking Assns.(ATA) trade group, told Fleet Owner.
The rule requires healthcare professionals who perform medical examinations for interstate truck and bus drivers to be trained, tested and certified on the specific physical qualifications that affect a driver’s ability to safely operate the vehicle.
By May 21, 2014, all certified medical examiners must be on the NRCME database and drivers must obtain a medical examination from a certified examiner, FMCSA noted – stressing that medical examiners who fail to adhere to federal training standards will be removed from the registry.
To allow time for testing and training centers to prepare their curricula and receive approval, the agency said healthcare professionals seeking to become certified examiners can begin registering on the NRCME website this summer.
FMCSA noted that some three million medical examinations are performed on commercial truck and bus drivers each year, looking at a range of conditions to determine a driver’s medical fitness, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory and muscular functions, vision and hearing.
All commercial drivers must pass a medical examination at least every two years in order to obtain a valid medical certificate, maintain their commercial driver’s license and legally drive a commercial motor vehicle, the agency added.
“Truck and bus drivers deserve highly-trained medical examiners that think safety first,” noted FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro in a statement. “By holding medical examiners accountable to high standards of practice, we raise the bar for safety and save lives through increased commercial driver and vehicle safety.”
ATA’s Stephenson echoed Ferro’s position, noting that ensuring medical examiners are trained to understand the rigors required to operate commercial vehicles “is a really good thing" – adding that having them listed in a registry with an identification number will help drivers not only locate them easier but ensure federal officials can find them as well.
“Yet we do have some concerns,” he added. “First, in rural areas, there’s only a small population of medical examiners, so this [certification requirement] may make fewer available. The other is that it creates a paperwork burden for drivers.”
Rather than having examination results sent electronically to state drivers license agencies (SDLA) as part of the commercial drivers license (CDL) application and/or renewal process, they must be hand delivered, creating both a paperwork hassle and what Stephenson called a significant “time lag” in the transfer of important medical information.
Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) made the very same points as well, noting that the rule as finalized will likely lead to reduced availability of medical examiners due to the cost and time associated with getting and maintaining certification and that, without electronic transmission of qualification status, puts the burden on drivers to ensure the state issuing their CDL gets their medical certification information.
“We support the proposal as a way to ensure that individuals performing driver medical exams are properly trained and qualified for that task [and] also feel that such a registry would help end the doctor-shopping and improper issuance of medical certificates that sometimes occurs under the current medical examination system,” noted Jim Johnston, OOIDA’s president, noted in written comments concerning the rule to FMCSA.
“But we believe that the information collection obligation on employers now being proposed is not only unnecessary, but is not the most efficient way to achieve these goals,” he said.