Reports link crashes to driver health

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For a few weeks the mainstream media sided with the trucking industry, publishing a number of stories which detailed how the rising cost of diesel was crippling already slim margins.

The honeymoon, however, was short lived and the latest negative story du jour has focused on medical qualifications of commercial drivers on U.S. highways.

The latest stories – from the Associated Press and NBC Nightly News – were in response to a recent study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which was designed to determine to what extent individuals with serious medical conditions hold CDLs.

The GAO report estimated there to be about 563,000 individuals with CDLs, despite being qualified for full disability benefits through the Social Security Administration, Office of Personnel Management, and Departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor. The number includes inactive licences in the DOT database, but in total makes up only about four percent of the CDL population in the states.

In closer analysis, the report focused on 12 selected states and found about 85 percent of CDL holders who were qualified for full disability still had active licences.

Further analysis showed more than 1,000 of the 563,000 drivers were diagnosed with vision, hearing, or seizure disorders, which are medical conditions that would generally deny the granting of a CDL.

While many media reports focused on the fact people who qualified for full disability were commercial drivers, the GAO report does state, “Commercial drivers with serious medical conditions, even those whose conditions qualify them for full federal disability benefits, can still meet DOT medical fitness requirements to safely operate a commercial vehicle and thus hold CDLs.”

Although the report outlines 15 of the more extreme oversights in medical qualifications – which provide ammo for fearmongering stories – the GAO does point out that while the National Transportation Safety Board has made a series of recommendations for improving the certification process, seven years later the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has adopted none of the eight points.

The American Trucking Associations has said it supports the recommendations to improve the medical qualification process for CDL holders, but the public should recognize medical problems cause less than three percent of truck accidents. The ATA noted that speeding, aggressive driving, and failing to pay attention, are larger problems in leading up to collisions.

The ATA was also disappointed that many stories in the mainstream media failed to mention the safety record in the trucking industry is better now than it has ever been. According to the ATA, the industry’s fatality rate, injury crash rate, and property damage crash rate are all at record lows and the industry continuously works on ways to improve.

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