FMCSA medical certification process under scrutiny

At PDQ America, health and safety are our top priorities. Department of Transportation (DOT) physicals assess truck drivers’ health to ensure that they’re up to the job of driving long hours, as well as dealing with the exhaustion and stress that comes along with operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle.

Federal law dictates that drivers must undergo a DOT physical to be cleared to operate interstate trucks and buses. The law also requires these same drivers to pass a physical exam for a medical certification that is valid for up to 24 months.

However, an uptick in truck-involved fatal crashes and instances of fraudulent truck driver medical certifications have spurred a Department of Transportation Inspector General audit of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s medical certificate program.

FMCSA’s data shows that deaths in accidents involving large trucks or buses increased by 11 percent, from 4,397 in 2012 to 4,879 in 2017.

According to a Feb. 20 memo to FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez from Barry DeWeese, assistant inspector general for surface transportation audits, the DOT’s objectives with this audit are to evaluate FMCSA’s procedures for:

· oversight of its medical certificate program, including commercial driver medical certificate data quality

· validating information in its National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners

Fraud and the certification process

One way to address motor carrier safety is to guarantee that drivers of CMVs maintain a valid medical certificate, confirming they’re healthy enough to safely do their jobs. However, according to the memo, “Since August 2014, Office of Inspector General criminal investigations have resulted in eight indictments and six convictions as a result of fraud in the medical certification process.”

When it comes to the medical professionals who complete these physicals and issue medical certificates to drivers, one bad apple can make a huge, very negative impact.

For example, an August 2017 indictment of a medical examiner in Georgia resulted in more than 600 truck operators having to renew their FMCSA medical certifications, DeWeese wrote.

The agency maintains a list of all physicians and other medical professionals authorized to conduct medical examinations and certifications of commercial driver license holders in the agency’s National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.

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FMCSA receives digital copies of medical certificates directly from examiners through the use of a database, and a process for states to directly receive medical certificate information from the DOT is in the works, DeWeese said.

The medical examiners’ database contains records of medical exams and sensitive information on the 58,000 examiners as well as exams administered to truck drivers, according to a privacy impact assessment of the website last year by the DOT.

Site security issues

While existing and upcoming technology can help streamline the certification process and ensure drivers are healthy enough to do their jobs, a 2017 hack caused a months-long shutdown of its registered medical examiners site.

FMCSA asserts that no private or personal information was compromised during the hack, but the instance led to a reconfiguration of the site which resulted in a delay in the medical certification process for over a year.

This security breach isn’t an isolated incident when it comes to IT protocols at both FMCSA and DOT. Past indications point to room for improvement in protecting “personal identifiable information.”

According to a Transport Topics article, “a DOT Inspector General audit released in January 2018 recommended that DOT’s chief privacy officer establish a continuous monitoring program for security controls to ensure that personal identifiable information systems remain compliant with the agency’s privacy risk management policy.”