Commercial truck drivers and trucking companies are increasingly violating federal medical rules that prohibit disabled or sick truck drivers from operating big rigs. According to an investigative report by the Associated Press, hundreds of thousands of tractor trailer and bus drivers in the United States carry licenses to drive these vehicles in spite of qualifying for full federal disability and suffering serious health conditions such as seizures, heart attacks or losing consciousness.
Even the federal agency that is responsible for cracking down on these unfit truckers admits that it has not implemented any of the safety regulations proposed since 2001, including one that would set minimum standards to determine whether truckers are “medically safe” to drive. Another proposed regulation that was not implemented would prevent truckers from looking for doctors who may overlook risky health conditions that could lead to serious truck accidents.
Allowing unfit or sick truck drivers to operate large commercial trucks and buses has resulted in devastating big rig accidents resulting in numerous fatalities and catastrophic injuries. According to a U.S. Department of Transportation report, 5,300 people died in accidents involving large commercial trucks or buses in 2006 and about 126,000 were injured.
Congress is expected to finally implement these proposals paving the way for trucking companies to examine the health of truck drivers before putting them on the road with big rigs that weigh up to 80,000 pounds. There is no question that these truck drivers who obtain licenses by concealing their medical conditions and trucking companies that choose to overlook drivers’ medical conditions should be held responsible for the accidents, injuries and losses caused by their negligence.
Given the size and weight of these large vehicles – be it tractor trailers, dump trucks, semis or buses – it is the people in passenger vehicles who tend to suffer catastrophic injuries or get killed. Truck drivers need to be vigilant and able to react quickly on the road. Driver illness or disability can hamper their perception and reaction time thereby putting other motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians in grave danger.
Trucking companies must take responsibility for the type of drivers they hire. Most of the fatality big rig accidents caused by drivers’ medical conditions have been settled for millions of dollars. Ultimately, employers are responsible for the actions of their employees on the job. It would work to the benefit of trucking companies to check their drivers’ health background so they won’t have to pay out millions when their unfit or sick driver causes a devastating accident.