The day after: All’s quiet on the medical front

OTTAWA (March 31) — The reciprocity accord between the United States and Canada on medical requirements for commercial drivers came into effect quietly yesterday, following months of frustration and confusion among Canadians whose doctors refused to qualify their medical fitness.

“We’re getting the odd phone call, mostly from people who just heard about the agreement and want more information,” said Brian Orrbine, a senior policy advisor with Transport Canada. “Otherwise, that’s about it.”

The agreement, contained in letters exchanged between Transport Canada and the FHWA Dec. 30, means the countries will recognize each other’s rules governing medical qualifications for truck and bus drivers. Canadian drivers will no longer be required to carry a medical fitness certificate to operate in the U.S. — their provincial driver’s licence will serve as proof of compliance with U.S. federal medical qualifications.

The agreement does not give reciprocal recognition to an array of medical waivers, however. “A waiver issued in Canada has never superseded U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations,” Orrbine said. “But if you’re a Canadian holding a valid waiver issued by the U.S. government, there’s no reason why you can’t drive there.”

Over the coming months, the two countries will develop a common set of identifier codes that can be displayed on the driver’s licence to reflect whether or not he is medically qualified to operate outside the borders of his country.
“There are other, more minor changes to the agreement that will be made — clarification of some technical terms, things like that,” Orrbine explained.

The driver medical issue raised its head last fall when the Canadian Medical Protective Association, which provides legal advice and services to more than 56,000 medical professionals in Canada, told doctors not to complete driver medical forms required by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.
The CMPA said the forms constitute a legal U.S. document, opening the door for a person injured in the U.S. by a Canadian driver to sue the doctor should the driver’s medical condition at the time be called into question. The CMPA does not protect members for work performed on behalf of jurisdictions outside Canada.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Trucking Alliance said it would make available through its provincial affiliates copies of the official letters of agreement exchanged between the U.S. and Canada outlining the terms of the reciprocity agreement.

“A driver could carry these letters with him in his glove compartment, and should he be stopped by U.S. enforcement officials, they could help illustrate the degree of the problem,” said CTA vice-president Graham Cooper. He acknowledged there is “no guarantee” that enforcement would be relaxed as a result, “but at the very least these documents would show communication between the two governments at very high levels.”

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