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September 22, 2015 2:00 PM, EDT

Federal Advisory Committees Seek Private-Sector Input on Improving Driver Health

Eric Miller/Transport Topics
Members of two federal advisory committees met this week to discuss ways the private medical sector can help commercial vehicle drivers improve their general state of poor health.

But before they began their discussions a day earlier, members of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Medical Review Board and Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee got an earful of bad news.

For starters, research presented to the Transportation Research Board last year showed longhaul truck drivers have a rate of obesity and morbid obesity more than two times higher than U.S. workers in general.

Drivers also smoke more than twice the amount of other U.S. workers, have twice the rate of diabetes, too often eat the wrong foods, don’t get enough exercise and more than a third don’t even have health insurance, said Martin Walker, chief of FMCSA’s research division.

Although they do generally get nearly as much sleep as other workers, one in three drivers admit to nodding off or falling asleep at the wheel, and 24% said they have had at least one “near-miss” in the past seven days.

The research numbers were compiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health from face-to-face interviews with 1,265 longhaul drivers at 32 truck stops in 20 states.

Larry Minor, FMCSA’s associate administrator for policy, said the goal of the joint committee two-day session was to find nonregulatory ways for the agency and medical private sector to work with the driver community so drivers “don’t get on the wrong side of medical standards” and fail to get their medical cards.

“Basically, we think we’ve pushed as hard as we can in the regulatory direction,” Minor told the two committees on the first day of meetings. “Now it’s time for something much more positive, something that will be well-received by the drivers.”

The committees will draft and forward a report to FMCSA on what types of behaviors and activities can be done before, during and after work to make lasting improvements in work conditions, diet and exercise, sleep and fatigue, personal injury and lifestyle choices of drivers.

“We’re looking for innovative ideas that we know will work,” said MCSAC Chairman Scott Hernandez, chief of the Colorado State Patrol.

A good deal of discussion on the first day centered on creating opportunities for personal interaction by medical professionals and “health coaches” with helping drivers stick to goals related to diet, exercise and smoking cessation.

Pamela Perry, a registered nurse and FMCSA consultant, told the committees she is finalizing a driver-wellness informational portal she hopes to debut on the agency’s website by the end of the year.

She hopes the site will help drivers realize there are health consequences to what they eat, particularly at truck stops.

“When you go in and look at the food choices, first of all the portion is huge,” Perry said. “And the other thing is it’s just not a healthy option.”

And, she said, truckers have told her they do a lot of what she calls “mindless eating,” like chomping down a bag of chips even when they aren’t hungry.