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April 22, 2021 12:00 PM, EDT

FMCSA Proposes Four-Year Rebuild Delay of Its Medical Examiners Website

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Federal trucking regulators have proposed delaying for four years completion of a redesign for a web-based national registry of certified medical examiners, citing information technology-related challenges with the effort.

The proposed delay — the second since 2018 — comes just three months after a Department of Transportation Inspector General audit criticized the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for falling short in overseeing the driver medical examination process. The website is intended to ensure that commercial vehicle drivers meet physical qualification standards for getting behind the wheel.

The website rebuild — originally set for completion by June this year — now could be delayed until June 2025. Until then, drivers would still be responsible for seeing that their medical exam certificates are delivered to state driver licensing agencies or risk having their commercial driver licenses suspended or revoked.

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The agency’s ultimate plan is for certification transfers to be done electronically, which it said could greatly reduce the chances of medically unqualified individuals fraudulently obtaining or renewing their CDLs and learner permits, in addition to saving time and travel expenses.

“The practical effect of the proposal is that states would continue to manually process medical certificate forms for CDL holders as they always have, while FMCSA completes the remaining elements of the National Registry rebuild,” said FMCSA spokesman Duane DeBruyne. “After the rebuild is complete, state driver’s licensing agencies would be provided additional time to work with FMCSA toward aligning their IT systems’ capabilities to accept secure medical examiners certificate information electronically from the national registry.”

The April 21 FMCSA announcement said that since the final rule was issued in 2015, ongoing hurdles have been associated with launching the updated national registry — including an attempted online hack.

“Among those challenges was an unsuccessful attempt by an intruder to compromise the national registry website in December 2017,” the proposal said. “Although no personal information was exposed, FMCSA took the National Registry system offline until mid-2018 to ensure it was secure.”

Plus, after a detailed analysis of the site’s functional requirements, the agency sought proposals for a new contractor to handle the website redesign. FMCSA selected a vendor in December, and has set a target to develop the replacement system by early 2022. From there, a new clock would start for rollout to states.

“The work would include delivery of technical specifications to the state driver licensing agencies for use in implementing changes to their respective systems,” the agency said. “FMCSA anticipates that the licensing agencies will need three years following the completion and release of the new IT system and its technical specifications to develop and implement those changes.”

The number of FMCSA-certified medical examiners in the registry currently tops 70,000. Since 2015, more than 500,000 individuals applying for or renewing their commercial driver licenses and learner’s permit were deemed medically unqualified, and roughly 5.5 million medical examinations have been conducted annually, DeBruyne said.

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“We were disappointed the first time the process was delayed, and certainly we’re disappointed the second time around,” said Daniel Horvath, vice president of safety policy for American Trucking Associations, of the delay announcement. “It was basically going to be a fully automated process. While the website is currently functional, it’s not the full website that FMCSA had intended.”

Under the process as it was designed, the driver’s medical certificate is to be transferred electronically to FMCSA, and then forwarded electronically by FMCSA to the state driver licensing agency, Horvath said.

The Jan. 15 DOT IG audit questioned FMCSA’s oversight of the medical driver standards, in part due to a backlog of driver examination reports that was created by the seven-month website outage. The outage, the IG noted, created “data-quality issues, including missing records, and weaknesses associated with the accuracy and completeness of data.”

“Because of the outage and technical issues in relaunching the national registry, we estimate that approximately 780,000 driver examinations could be missing from the database,” the audit said.

FMCSA will seek public comment on the delay proposal for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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