What Is Driving the Changes behind Recent DOT Regulations?

By Lauryn Page | 07/27/2016
In an effort to keep roads and drivers as safe as possible, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) introduced new rules in April 2016 for the Department of Transportation (DOT). These rules pertain to DOT physicals, the health of commercial drivers, and the possible future of commercial transportation. A high profile tour bus crash is said to be one of the catalysts for the stricter regulations. The driver was found to be unqualified to operate a commercial vehicle. There has been increase of unqualified commercial drivers on the road, resulting in a hike of fatal crashes involving large trucks and buses. Over 3, 978 commercial vehicles were involved in fatal crashes in 2014. The number of bus or large truck accidents escalated by 55% between 2009 and 2014. 

One possible reason behind the influx of unqualified drivers is high turnover and an aging workforce. The commercial transportation industry has experienced a high rate of turnover for the last few years. A 2016 report concluded that industry estimates for the driver shortage will be from around 50,000 to 1 million and trucking companies will need to hire and train at least 89,000 annually to make up for it. Drivers also tend to move from one trucking company to another in search of higher wages. With an average age of 49, most commercial drivers are nearing retirement with no new recruits to take their place causing some companies to take a risk on unqualified drivers.

The recent changes also reflect a trend toward getting and keeping drivers healthy. Commercial drivers are less healthy than their non-commercial counterparts. Extensive, inactive driving hours coupled with limited access to healthier food or exercise options contributes to multiple chronic diseases and illnesses such as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing periodically starts and stops that affects more that 18 million adults in the United States. Sleep apnea can lead to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and extreme fatigue. According to the FMCSA almost 1/3 of commercial drivers have sleep apnea but it is a manageable condition with proper treatment. However, for some trucking companies, due to finances there is a reluctance to make driver health a priority. These companies compare the time at an occupational medical clinic with lost income.

The future of the commercial transportation industry will introduce new technology and some possibly unsafe regulations. Beginning June 2018, Medical examiners will be able to electronically transmit medical certification to the FMCSA who will then transmit it to state driver licensing agencies. There will also be an increase in the usage of driver data to remote monitor chronic conditions and autonomous or semiautonomous commercial vehicles to increase fuel efficiency. Unfortunately, in an effort to battle the shortage of drivers some are considering lowering the commercial driving age to 18. Studies show that motor vehicle crashes are higher for drivers 16-19. This age group is 3X more likely to than drivers 20 and over to be in a fatal crash.

Concentra remains at the forefront of FMCSA regulations and occupational health. We work with companies to develop an industry-specific health and wellness plan for their drivers. Our clinicians are highly trained and stay current with any and all DOT changes in an effort to alleviate the costs of employee absences and injury.