By LAUREN GENTILE
Capital News Service
LANSING –Federal regulations to keep medically impaired commercial drivers off the road are not fully effective, according to a recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The GAO study uncovered 204 epileptic drivers after matching medical files with Social Security Administration disability files. ”Thirty-one of these drivers were involved in accidents, demonstrating a threat to public safety,” it reported.
The GAO did not break down the statistics by state.
Commercial drivers, such as those who operate buses and semi-trucks, are required to undergo regular medical exams, said Walter Heinritzi, executive director of the Michigan Trucking Association and a member of the Truck Safety Commission
“All truck drivers must pass a physical and each of their records must be kept on file with the driver or the motor carrier,” he said.
In the case of the 31 epilepsy accidents cited by the GAO, state agencies were unable to provide medical certifications for 23 drivers.
Matt Valenta, GAO assistant director of forensic audits and special investigations, said, “The states are now required to electronically store certificates for new and renewing applicants to keep their medical records and certifications electronically filed.”
The latest study followed up on a 2008 GAO report, and it was prepared at the request of a U.S. Senate committee.
“The report is to make sure highway safety with commercial drivers is on the right track,” Valenta said.
Secretary of State communications manager Fred Woodhams said Michigan’s commercial driver’s license laws are similar to federal ones.
Commercial drivers with a history of epilepsy must prove they have not had an episode within 12 months. Meanwhile, drivers with a normal license must prove they haven’t had an epileptic episode within six months, said Woodham.
The GAO study said state and federal roadside-inspection programs are in place to identify impaired operators and perform other safety checks.
“It just comes down to safety,” said the Trucking Association’s Heinritzi.
“It just comes down to safety. We, as in the truck drivers, have to be as safe as possible. Our customers want their goods on time and we work hard to make sure we get them there on time and in one piece safely,” he said.
By LAUREN GENTILE