Posted on Apr 15, 2016

We have touched on some of the qualifications truckers have to meet, and how you can discover if a driver is unqualified in the past. So it is no surprise that commercial drivers are expected to be healthy enough to perform the duties of their jobs.

One way to ensure this is to have commercial drivers pass health screenings. This makes sense; society does not a bus driver or a big-rig trucker getting behind the wheel if he may suddenly lose consciousness, have a seizure, or suffer a stroke. Such an incident would put the driver, his passengers, and other motorists on the road in deadly danger.

Guess what? That’s precisely what is happening right now.

The Hidden Menace on the Road

According to a recent CBS news report, the government regulations overseen by the Department of Transportation (DOT) fall short of protecting passengers of commercial vehicles and other motorists—and not enough is being done.

Today, according to CBS journalists, the screening process requires truckers to be honest about their health problems. In some situations truckers are failing to disclose certain health issues, such as sleep apnea, for fear that it could cost them their jobs. This failure to disclose is leading to dangerous consequences.

The article goes on to give examples of how the weak screening process has apparently led to deaths and serious injuries. One example is a Detroit-bound Greyhound bus which drove off an Ohio interstate after the driver blacked out. In this situation it appears that the driver informed the investigating officer that he lost consciousness. While, thankfully, no one was killed in this incident, 35 passengers were injured—some significantly.

It turns out that weeks before the accident, a DOT medical examiner suspected the driver may have sleep apnea, a breathing condition that disrupts one’s sleep and often leads to fatigue. If this is not treated, regulations require that the driver should be disqualified. The driver was asked to get tested, but he failed to do so. He never informed his personal physician of the referral (although he saw his personal physician prior to the crash), and this prevented further evaluation. It has since been established that the driver has sleep apnea and he is disqualified from driving commercially; however, he should have never been on the road to begin with.

The report highlighted another recent accident where a trucker failed to disclose that he had alcoholic hepatitis and deteriorating vision, conditions which would have disqualified him from driving. Those conditions indeed led to the accident. Yet another example was a Greyhound bus driver failing to disclose his sleep apnea, and even going as far as to hide his condition; as a result, he ran his bus into a pickup truck, killing the pickup driver.

Federal regulators and most state regulators do not track accidents caused by commercial drivers with medical conditions. However, CBS reports that in the review of statistical information from four states, researchers found there were nearly 400 commercial vehicle accidents in 2013 and 2014 where the driver had a debilitating medical condition.

Where Do We Go From Here?

This report reminds us of how dangerous commercial vehicles can be and the need for thoughtful regulation to keep motorists safe. The U.S. Transportation Department is charged with these screenings and more needs to be done. Perhaps relying so heavily on drivers to voluntarily admit their health problems isn’t good enough. Perhaps an independent review of applicant’s medical history would help.

We could also promote a culture where drivers recognize they can be truthful about their ailment without fear of automatic termination or disqualification. Instead, ailing drivers could be referred to appropriate medical treatment to correct the problem and keep them in their jobs.

In the meantime, there are ways to find out if a driver should have been on the road. Let us find out for you. If you have been injured or one of your loved ones has died as a result of a commercial vehicle crash, please contact the lawyers of Holland & Usry  toll-free at 888.230.1841 for your free, confidential consultation.


John Holland
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John Holland is a Spartanburg Family law attorney, practicing since 2012.