US regulators up scrutiny of transport workers

US regulators up scrutiny of transport workers

Truck crash fatalities increased 11 percent from 2012 to 2017, according to the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General (DOT OIG). Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.

Are truck drivers evading medical rules meant to ensure they’re healthy enough to operate their rigs? US investigators believe so, and they’re reviewing procedures to ensure drivers are properly screened and to uncover fraud in truck driver medical certification.

The Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General (DOT OIG) last month launched an audit of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA’s) medical certification procedures and its registry of medical examiners, citing several instances of medical fraud and an 11 percent increase in truck crash fatalities from 2012 to 2017.

The DOT OIG audit is one example of how federal regulators are tightening control of truck and bus drivers to ensure they comply with US rules, keeping unqualified drivers off the road and reducing accidents and fatalities. The aim of those actions, which include the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, is to strengthen compliance with regulations to improve highway safety, but they will also eventually put pressure on shipping costs as the pool of available and qualified truck drivers shrinks.

And truck drivers aren’t the only transportation workers under scrutiny. The DOT OIG is also auditing Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Aviation Administration drug and alcohol testing programs, pointing to positive drug tests as the likely culprit in a fatal 2016 rail accident.

‘Significant safety risk’

As part of the audit, the DOT OIG will review the FMCSA’s oversight of its medical certificate program and validate the information in its National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. Interstate truck and bus drivers are required to pass a physical exam and obtain a certificate valid for two years.

Fraudulent medical certificates, sometimes issued by unqualified practitioners, pose a “significant safety risk,” the DOT OIG said in a memorandum announcing the audit. In the past five years, OIG medical certificate fraud investigations have resulted in eight indictments and six convictions.

In January, Alabama chiropractor Kenneth Edwards was sentenced to 37 months in prison and a $10,000 fine for a scheme to submit falsified trucker medical examinations to the FMCSA through two unqualified assistants. One assistant received 36 months’ probation. Edwards operated Back & Neck Rehab in Phenix City, Alabama, which advertised that it performed DOT medical examinations. However, his unlicensed assistants conducted many of the physicals, sometimes failing to perform required tests and submitting false results.

The potential number of falsified medical certificates is unknown, but DOT efforts to improve the technology behind its national registry and share data with states will make it more difficult for doctors to defraud the government and certify unsafe drivers.

Contact William B. Cassidy at bill.cassidy@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @willbcassidy.