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May 19, 2014 2:00 AM, EDT

FMCSA Says Enough Examiners Certified as New Medical Rule Becomes Effective

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the May 19 print edition of Transport Topics.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials said they are confident there will be an adequate number of certified medical examiners to administer truck driver physicals when new requirements take effect this week.

“FMCSA is closely monitoring the growing list and locations of certified medical examiners to ensure that an adequate number are registered by the May 21 deadline,” agency spokesman Duane DeBruyne said. “Currently, more than 21,600 medical professionals have passed the exam to be added to the registry — with more than 4,000 scheduled to take the test prior to May 21.”

In total, DeBruyne said, 46,000 medical examiners have signed up on the registry.

The FMCSA requirement, issued in 2012, called for medical examiners that perform the federally mandated truck driver physical exams to complete “core curriculum” training and be tested and certified by a nationally accredited institution.

The examiners also must be retrained every five years and be retested every 10 years. Drivers must receive physicals every two years.

Despite reassurances from FMCSA, American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association earlier this month asked that the deadline be pushed back.

Bill Graves, ATA’s president, asked the agency to delay the deadline for six months because shortages of certified examiners still exist in some areas.

“We found that there are wide swaths of rural areas either without available medical examiners or which are severely underserved,” Graves wrote in a May 8 letter to FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro.

“Not only will the registry lack sufficient numbers of examiners in sum, but the system will be hindered by the inadequate geographic coverage,” Graves wrote.

Sean Garney, ATA’s manager of safety policy, said the federation has been coordinating with its state affiliates, which have communicated concerns that some drivers in rural areas will be forced to travel long distances to have physicals.

“The trend that we saw was that traditionally underserved rural areas may be running into trouble and that there is significant angst in the industry regarding that,” Garney said.

But DeBruyne said there are certified examiners “in every state, and dozens or hundreds in most cities.”

“It is also important to emphasize that most drivers will not need a new physical exam immediately following the May 21 deadline,” DeBruyne said. “Their medical certificates will continue to be valid until the expiration date that is shown on the card. Only then will the driver need to seek a certified medical examiner.”

The rule requires drivers whose current medical certificate expires on or after May 21 be examined only by medical professionals listed on the agency’s National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.

OOIDA said it is concerned that some truck drivers will not be able to become recertified before their current certification expires, which could lead to greater costs.

“It’s a source of concern for us that there are so few examiners registered so far,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice president. “And it also should be a source of serious concern for the agency.”