DOT Tries To Fix Incorporation Of Medical Card Into CDL

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has tried for a number of years to incorporate the medical qualification certification for drivers into the Commercial Driver’s License itself. This would mean that the CDL driver would no longer have to keep a copy of the medical “card,” or certificate, on his or her person when operating a commercial motor vehicle.

Implementing this idea has been troublesome, as the federal government creates standards for driver medical qualifications, while state driver’s licensing agencies actually issue the CDLs. Integrating the medical qualification into the CDL was initially published as a final rule by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration back in 2008, with all states required to comply by January 2012 or face losing federal funding. But many states were unable or unwilling to meet the 2012 deadline, which was extended to January 30, 2015.

At present, when first obtaining CDLs or CDL learner’s permits, or renewing, upgrading or transferring a CDL or learner’s permit, drivers must submit their medical certificates to their licensing agencies. The drivers must also update that information whenever a new medical certificate is issued. These drivers do not have to use their medical certificate as proof of medical certification to enforcement personnel except for the first 15 days after issuance of the certificate. The state driver’s licensing agency is required to update the driver’s medical qualification information electronically into the CDL Information System, which is available to roadside enforcement personnel.

In addition, company management is required to obtain a copy of a driver’s motor vehicle record from the state licensing agency each time a driver renews or secures a new CDL. For drivers that have restrictions limiting their medical qualification to some period less than two years due to a medical condition under treatment, this means additional costs and administrative requirements for the company to pull additional MVRs to make sure that the driver remains medically qualified to operate a CMV.

Non-CDL or CDL learner’s permit drivers who are subject to the medical qualification standards in 49 CFR Part 391 will still be required to carry the original or a copy of the medical certificate while on duty to prove their medical qualification to drive a CMV.

The FMCSA recently published a final rule to amend the process under which medical examination results and certification requirements for CDL drivers are submitted to state drivers licensing agencies. (80 Fed. Reg. 22789, April 23, 2015). After a three-year phase-in, beginning in June 2018, the rule will require medical examiners performing physical examinations of CMV drivers to use a newly developed Medical Examination Report (MER) Form, MCSA–5875, in place of the current MER Form and to use Form MCSA–5876 for the Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC); and to report results of all CMV drivers’ physical examinations performed (including the results of examinations where the driver was found not to be qualified) to FMCSA by midnight (local time) of the next calendar day following the examination. The FMCSA will then electronically transmit driver identification, examination results, and restriction information from examinations performed from the National Registry to the state licensing agencies for all CDL and CDL learner’s permit drivers.

The real question is whether this new electronic system will work in practice. First, the medical examiners must be diligent into transmitting the new medical exam results to the FMCSA in a timely manner. Then the FMCSA must transmit this information to the state driver’s licensing agencies, which in turn must update the medical certification (and any restrictions or exceptions) for the driver in question.

If any of these steps are not met, the driver will not be able to prove to a roadside inspector that the driver is medically qualified. According to the final rule, “The electronic record of the driver’s medical certification will be the only valid evidence that the [CDL] holder was physically qualified. . . [E]ven if the [CDL] holder chooses to carry a paper MEC, it will not be considered valid evidence of medical qualification.”

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Richard P. Schweitzer, Esq. Meet the Author
GAWDA’s Government Affairs and Human Resources Legal Consultant Rick Schweitzer is president of Richard P. Schweitzer, PLLC in Washington, D.C. He is also GAWDA’s general counsel. Members can reach him at 202-223-3040 and rpschweitzer@rpslegal.com.