DOT to audit FMCSA’s medical certifications

Photo Credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Photo Credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Increasing driver fatalities and fraudulent medical certificates has prompted an audit of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) medical certification program.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Office of Inspector General (OIG) said on February 20 that it would begin the audit immediately. It will evaluate FMCSA’s oversight procedures for its medical certificate program, including data quality of its commercial driver medical certificate, as well as validating the data in the agency’s National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.

The OIG cited FMCSA data revealing that fatalities in crashes involving large trucks or buses grew 11 percent between 2012 and 2017, from 4,397 to 4,879.

“One key area of addressing motor carrier safety is to ensure that commercial drivers maintain a valid medical certificate, which confirms they are healthy enough to safely operate the commercial vehicle,” it stated.

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That validation process has been undermined, however, by fraudulent certifications. Criminal investigations since August 2014 have resulted in eight indictments and six convictions as a result of medical certification fraud, according to the OIG.

FMCSA keeps a list of all medical professionals authorized to examine and certify commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders in a national registry. In January 2015 it established a database for digital copies of medical certificates sent directly from medical examiners, the OIG noted, and is also starting a process for states to receive medical certificate information directly from the USDOT.

The potential for sleep apnea to cause fatigue – and lead to accidents – has been receiving increasing attention from transportation employers, and has the potential to slip through cracks when it comes to disclosure for medical certification purposes.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that FMCSA put in place a program to identify CDL holders at high risk for sleep apnea and require them to provide evidence, through the medical certification process, of having been appropriately evaluated before being granted certification.

In addition to FMCSA’s medical program, USDOT auditors told FreightWaves in December that it may also be conducting a review of the agency’s drug testing program as part of an industry-wide mandate. A USDOT spokesperson was not available for an update on the potential plan.