This story appears in the July 22 print edition of Transport Topics.
Medical professionals and state driver licensing agencies objected to a proposal to require daily updates of commercial drivers’ physical exam information, telling federal regulators the system would be burdensome and costly.
The comments came in response to a May proposal from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that would require medical examiners to submit the results of their physicals on drivers at the end of each day. FMCSA would forward that data to states’ licensing agencies the next day, and the states would have to post it to a database the day after that.
Drivers currently are responsible for providing their medical certificates to states, but FMCSA said it sought to reduce fraud by quickly letting law enforcement officers know if drivers have failed physicals.
The American Medical Association asked that FMCSA allow “significantly” more time to submit data, and allow examiners to do so through a variety of means, such as fax or mail, rather than only in an electronic format.
“We are concerned that this proposal will prove administratively burdensome for physicians, who will need to modify and augment their office processes to accommodate these requirements,” AMA wrote.
“Occasionally, medical emergencies or other interruptions can take us away from our offices, making it difficult to comply with the proposed timeframe,” wrote Karl Hadley, a family doctor based in Poulsbo, Wash. Hadley requested a one-week timeframe.
Currently, doctors, nurse practitioners, chiropractors and other professionals who are on FMCSA’s National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners must submit physical data monthly. By May 2014, all truck driver physicals will have to be completed by certified examiners, who must be trained and tested on federal rules.
Other commenters said that daily reporting would require them to change their procedures.
“In order to give our staff time to report along with all the other tasks they must do, we would have to limit all physical exams to be performed only in the morning,” wrote Julia Palmandez, general manager of Yakima Worker Care, Yakima, Wash.
Likewise, state licensing agencies said the new system could be a burden, since they would have to post the information to the Commercial Driver License Information System the day after they receive it. If FMCSA does not submit the information in a format that matches that database, states said they could face difficulties using it.
“Colorado would strongly urge FMCSA to consider using the existing CDLIS platform to transmit the medical information,” the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles said.
FMCSA has not said how it would submit the data. States want the agency not to use the same national registry system that medical examiners will use to submit the data to FMCSA.
“If the data fields are not automatically populated and DMV employees have to manually enter data into the driver record, this may impact compliance with the requirement to enter data and update the record within one business day of receipt of the information from FMCSA,” according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
Oregon and California said that the data format FMCSA uses will affect how quickly states can be ready to accept the information. FMCSA’s proposal called for a three-year window for states to comply, a time period both states said is probably optimistic.
American Trucking Associations applauded the proposal but asked that drivers be allowed to carry paper certificates for up to 15 days after their exams. FMCSA’s proposal would prohibit drivers from using paper medical cards.
“FMCSA must provide a method through which drivers and motor carriers can adequately demonstrate that a compliant driver whose information has not been uploaded is operating with proper medical certification,” ATA said.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators noted it is important that physical exam data be processed as quickly as possible.
“AAMVA cannot emphasize enough that the medical examiner’s certificate is a crucial component in ensuring commercial vehicle operators are medically qualified to operate those vehicles,” it said, adding that certifications may expire in the time between an exam and when the data is posted.
FMCSA has not indicated when it will make its proposed rule final.