Could a Trucker’s Medical Condition Cause a Serious Crash?

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Maintaining medical fitness should be an important priority for truck driversMore than 3.5 million people make a living driving trucks in the United States, according to a 2016 report released by the American Trucking Associations. These drivers move essential goods from place to place and play a vital role in our economy, but are they all able to do so safely?

The United States government and the majority of states do not keep statistics about how many accidents, injuries, and deaths are caused by truckers who suffer a medical condition while behind the wheel. However, news reports and accident victims suggest that the problem may be significant and that medical conditions could be a cause of truck accidents.

What the Government Is Doing About the Danger of Medically Unfit Drivers

Some truckers may be medically unfit to drive safely because of specific and diagnosable medical conditions. These conditions could cause the driver to exhibit symptoms or suffer a medical episode while driving that endangers the driver and everyone else who happens to be near the driver at the time of the incident.

Recognizing this danger, a new federal regulation went into effect on January 30, 2012. This regulation requires non-excepted truckers to prove that they were medically fit before obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Kentucky regulations require all people applying for CDLs to meet the federal Department of Transportation medical certification requirements.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Medical Examination Report Form requires self-reporting by the driver and an examination by a medical provider. The medical provider will then make a determination about whether the driver is medically qualified to drive. The determination may be that the driver is issued a two-year medical examination certificate, that the driver is medically qualified to drive subject to periodic monitoring, or that the driver is not medically qualified to drive.

Specific Conditions That Can Make a Driver Medically Unfit

The federal Medical Examination Report asks a driver to self-identify 25 medical conditions, to answer eight specific medical questions, and to describe any other health conditions not specifically listed. The 25 conditions that are specifically listed include:

Sleep Disorders, Including Sleep Apnea

One of the serious medical concerns that drivers are required to self-report includes sleep disorders.

The Medical Examination Report specifically asks drivers whether they have ever had a sleep test, such as one for sleep apnea. A 2016 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that truck drivers with untreated sleep apnea are five times more likely to get into an accident than truck drivers who do not have this condition. Sleep apnea is a serious condition that causes people to stop breathing while they sleep and that results in daytime drowsiness.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has found that more than 20 percent of commercial truck drivers—or more than one in five truckers—have sleep apnea. In March 2016, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine asked the federal government to do more to diagnosis and treat truckers with this condition.

So far, the federal government has responded in this way. The Department of Transportation is attempting to identify which truck drivers may be suffering from sleep apnea. In 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) considered new regulations for mandatory screening of sleep apnea among truckers; however, a final regulation is not expected to be issued until sometime in 2017 or after. Additionally, the 2016 National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements included reducing -elated accidents and requiring medical fitness for safety-critical transportation personnel.

Neurological Conditions

There are several neurological conditions that truckers are required to self-report. These include:

  • Head/brain injuries and illnesses.
  • Seizures, epilepsy.
  • Dizziness, headaches, numbness, tingling, or memory loss.
  • Stroke, mini-stroke (TIA), paralysis, or weakness.

These conditions can interfere with a driver’s ability to control his vehicle or make quick decisions that are necessary to drive safely.

Cardiovascular and Respiratory Conditions

The heart and lung related conditions that are included in the conditions that truckers must self-report include:

  • Heart disease, heart attack, bypass, or other heart problems.
  • Pacemaker, stents, implantable devices, or other heart procedures.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Chronic cough, shortness of breath, or other breathing problems.
  • Lung disease (such as asthma, for example).

The general concern with these conditions are that a trucker may suffer a heart attack, stroke, or stop breathing while behind the wheel. Any of these would make it very difficult for the trucker to stop the truck safely.

Sensory Conditions

Conditions impacting the ears and the eyes should be reported by truckers. These conditions include:

  • Eye problems. This does not include problems that can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.
  • Ear or hearing problems. Anything that interferes with a trucker’s ability to see or hear could cause a trucker to make a mistake in judgment that results in an accident.

Mental Health Conditions

Some of the mental health conditions that the Department of Transportation is concerned about include:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Nervousness.
  • Any other mental health condition.

A trucker who experiences any of these conditions must answer yes to question 14 in the driver’s health history report.

Other Conditions

Some of the other conditions included in the list of 25 that must be self-reported by truckers include:

  • Kidney problems. This includes—but is not limited to—kidney stones, painful urination, problems with urination.
  • Stomach, liver, or digestive problems.
  • Diabetes. This includes blood sugar problems. It should be noted if insulin is used.
  • Fainting or passing out.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Missing or limited use of an arm, hand, finger, leg, foot, or toe.
  • Neck or back problems.
  • Bone, muscle, joint, or nerve problems.
  • Blood clots or bleeding problems.
  • Cancer.
  • Chronic infections or other chronic diseases.

All of these conditions should be discussed with a doctor. Some may not impact a particular driver’s ability to do his job safely. However, it may only take one of any of the conditions listed above to cause a driver to lose control of his truck and for a serious accident to result.

How to Recover From an Accident Caused by a Medically Unfit Driver

The trucker may not have meant to cause any harm; however, serious injuries or fatalities may have resulted from the trucker suffering a medical condition behind the wheel. Victims of these types of truck accidents may be able to recover damages for the significant harm they have endured. The damages may come from the trucking company that hired the trucker, an insurance company, or another source.

In order to recover damages, you will have to take action. You will need to negotiate a settlement or pursue a claim in court before the Kentucky Statute of Limitation expires. If your claim is successful then you may be able to recover important damages for thing such as your past, current, and future medical expenses, lost income, out of pocket costs and pain and suffering.

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