Unhealthy Truckers Could Be Bad for Your Health

March 11th, 2016 by Attorney Julie Butcher

Compared to the average driver, commercial drivers are under far more medical scrutiny — and for good reason. While a passenger car or SUV has the potential to do a lot of harm, a semi-truck weighing 40 tons can cause catastrophic damage when involved in an accident, so it’s especially important to keep drivers impaired by physical or psychological problems from getting behind the wheel.

Commercial drivers are required by federal regulations to get a check-up at least every two years to clear them to drive. A new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rule creates a new medical exam form that must be completed and requires that the physician performing the exam be approved by the agency. Despite trucking industry efforts to delay the rule, it’s now in effect.

The FMCSA has established medical requirements whose goal is to ensure that all commercial drivers are healthy enough to drive a large vehicle before they can obtain or renew their commercial driver’s license. Disqualifiers (listed under section (b) of this regulation) include the following:

  • Amputation of an arm, leg or hand
  • Hand, arm and leg impairments that could affect driving
  • Diabetes, if so severe that it requires insulin
  • Arthritis
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart conditions
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Impaired vision or hearing
  • Use of illegal drugs

Though many commercial drivers have one or more of these conditions, they can pass the exam if that condition is not serious or is sufficiently under control so that it doesn’t impact their ability to drive.

Depending on the situation, even the treatment for a condition may pose a threat to others on the road. For example, some medications for depression can have the following side effects, according to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleepiness
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feeling anxiety or agitation
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Acting aggressively or on dangerous impulses.

A commercial driver suffering these side effects while behind the wheel would be a hazard to others on the road. Physicians need to not only look at the underlying conditions and how they impact the driver, but also consider how treatment can affect driver safety.

Rules, regulations and forms are helpful, but reality is much more complicated. Certain actions or failure to act may be evidence of compensable negligence:

  • After a commercial driver has passed the required physical exam, a known condition may worsen or a new condition may develop. A driver who is desperate to stay on the road and earn an income may not get proper treatment or report the condition to his or her employer.
  • A trucking company that suspects a driver is having difficulties with their physical, mental or emotional health should require the driver to be re-evaluated and receive treatment before they can continue to drive. But a company which has a shortage of drivers and a need to have cargo transported may not do the right thing — they might look the other way and run the risk of an accident.

Ideally, everyone who drives should be healthy and able to drive safely. The reality is too many drivers, whatever their vehicle, suffer conditions that impair their driving or distract them from driving safely. If you or a loved one has been injured by such a driver in Kentucky, call the Julie Butcher Law Office at 859-233-3641 or fill out our contact form to talk about your case and your legal options.