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TRUCK ACCIDENTS CAUSED BY MEDICALLY IMPAIRED DRIVERS

If you have been involved in an accident or crash with a tractor-trailer or a bus, the statistics reveal the driver may have been medically impaired.The Associated Press reported today that it obtained an advance copy of a Government Accounting Office report showing that over 500,0000 of the country’s commercial truck drivers also qualify for full federal medical disability payments.Over a thousand drivers had vision, hearing and seizure disorders.

As far back as 2001, safety regulators advised the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the government office responsible for regulating commercial truck and bus drivers, that reforms must be undertaken to insure that those carrying commercial drivers licenses are medically fit to drive.

In 2006, the federal Transportation Department issued 7.3 million commercial driving citations for violating federal medical rules.Twelve states, one of which was Georgia, accounted for over half of the violations.

Hundreds of deaths and injuries have been blamed on drivers blacking out, collapsing or having a heart attack behind the wheel of a forty-ton vehicle.In 2006, fifty-three hundred people died in crashes involving commercial trucks or buses, and over one hundred thousand people were injured.The leading cause of crashes involving large commercial trucks was physical impairment of the truck driver.

The chief safety officer for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration blames delays on the lack of federal funds and difficulty coordinating safety regulations in fifty states.

Congressional hearings on this topic will feature testimony involving some of the following:

  • A Florida bus driver who suffers from lung disease that causes him to occasionally “black out and forget things.”He works as a substitute bus driver despite not having a medical certificate.He has collected social security disability since 1994.
  • A Virginia truck driver with a prosthetic leg who is permitted to drive tanker trucks even though he lacks proper paperwork for amputees.
  • A Missouri truck driver’s employer who paid $18 million in a tort settlement after its diabetic driver crashed his 70,000 pound tractor-trailer into traffic on an interstate, killing four women.The driver had a diabetic episode that put him into an altered state of consciousness.
  • Victims of a gasoline tanker driver who had a heart attack while driving, causing the tanker to plunge over an overpass in Maryland, killing four people.
  • Parents of children injured and killed when the driver of a 15-passenger day-care bus crashed into a bridge, killing the driver and four children on board when the driver with a sleep disorder fell asleep at the wheel.
  • New Orleans victims of a 55-passenger bus that crashed, killing 22 people when the driver suffered a heart attack.He had been treated for heart problems 20 times in the last two years.

Interestingly, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act paved the road of driving while disabled.The Commercial Vehicle Training Association reports that a man with a cerebral-palsy impaired gait was awarded $90,000 in damages under the ADA when he was refused admittance in an interstate trucking firm’s driver training program.The ADA allows workers to seek “reasonable accommodations”. Due to those accommodations, many drivers with disabilities are driving multi-ton vehicles on interstates today.

According to many truckers associations, in the past the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration did not approve any commercial drivers licenses (“CDLs”) for persons with diabetes, loss of a limb, or sleep disorders.However, the Diabetes Association and other groups protested, arguing that drivers under a doctor’s care could and should be allowed to drive if their conditions were under control.

This year, the Ninth Circuit, ruled on a class action involving hearing-impaired job applicants suing United Parcel Service under the ADA.The potential drivers claimed they were discriminated against when UPS refused to hire them as drivers because their hearing impairment failed to qualify them under US DOT standards for drivers of vehicles over 10,000 pounds. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the drivers were discriminated against and sent the case back to the district court.

Thus, in an effort to protect the rights of the disabled, many unsuspecting travellers on the road today are put at risk.Perhaps, trucking companies are forced to weigh the costs of being sued for violating ADA laws against the risks of potential tort injury or rising insurance costs as a result of hiring a medically-impaired driver.

One thing appears to be clear.The federal agencies designed to ensure highway safety are failing in that job.

Be careful on the roadways.

And if you or someone you love is involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle, contact the law firm of Robert N. Katz for a free, private consultation.We can help.