October 5, 2015 3:00 AM, EDT

FMCSA Aims to Improve Driver Health Without Issuing Additional Regulations

Celadon Group
This story appears in the Oct. 5 print edition of Transport Topics.

Members of two federal advisory committees are considering nonregulatory ways the private medical sector can help commercial vehicle drivers improve their health.

A two-day meeting of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and Medical Review Board probed for solutions but didn’t produce a formal report as committee members concluded they would need to meet again.

“We established a subcommittee to develop something more structured and provided some general direction on things that should be considered,” said Rob Abbott, a member of MCSAC and vice president of safety policy for American Trucking Associations.

To outline the challenge they face, the committees were briefed on “baseline” research, conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, showing longhaul truck drivers have a rate of obesity and morbid obesity more than two times higher than U.S. workers in general.

Driver smoking rates also are more than twice the amount of other U.S. workers. And drivers have twice the rate of diabetes, too often eat the wrong foods, don’t get enough exercise and more than a third lack health insurance, said Martin Walker, chief of FMCSA’s Research Division.

They generally get nearly as much sleep as other workers, but one in three admit having fallen asleep at the wheel, while 24% said they have had at least one “near miss” on the highway.

The research data were based on interviews with 1,265 longhaul drivers at 32 truck stops in 20 states.

Attorney Dave Parker, an MCSAC member, characterized the committee’s charge as an attempt to create a sort of “Google for drivers” that will advise them on subjects ranging from how best to lift a box with a sore back to eating the right foods to quitting smoking.

“There’s a lot of information out there, but I don’t know how easily accessible it is for truck drivers,” said John Lannen, an MCSAC member and executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition. “There is benefit in having a consistent message in one easy-to-find location.”

The nonregulatory initiative also is an effort to supplement regulatory mandates.

“Basically, we think we’ve pushed as hard as we can in the regulatory direction,” said Larry Minor, FMCSA’s associate administrator for policy. “Now it’s time for something much more positive, something that will be well-received by the drivers.”

The committees plan to forward to FMCSA a report on behaviors to improve work conditions, diet and exercise, sleep and lifestyle choices.

“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 centered on creating opportunities for personal interaction by medical professionals and “health coaches” who could help drivers stick to goals related to diet, exercise and smoking cessation.

Other ideas included:

• Paying drivers by the hour rather than mile to reduce stress.

• Encouraging companies to subsidize weight-loss programs and gym memberships.

• Making ergonomic cab modifications to prevent pain, vibration and associated fatigue.