Archive for September 2008
On the heels of a report criticizing the federal governments efforts to ensure that truck drivers are medically qualified, the House transportation committee’s chair man blasted the top truck safety agency for not living up to tis mission and for dragging its feet on the health issue.
Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, laid into the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Admin. for not moving fast enough to implement congressional mandates or recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board.
“It shouldn’t take you eight years. It shouldn’t take you five years. Or three years,” Oberstar said during a July 24 hearing by the committee. “People’s lives are at stake, and they are depending on you and your colleagues. We’ve given you a half-billion dollar [annual] budget, practically, to do this. There is no excuse for foot-dragging.”
Oberstar’s comments were in response to a Government Accountability Office report that said hundreds of thousands of drivers have potentially serious medical conditions, some significant enough to prevent them from driving a truck.
During the hearing, Rose McMurray, FMCSA’s chief safety officer, defended the agency’s work on driver health issues, telling the committee the agency was committed to completing rules later this year that would address most of NTSB’s recommendations.
“Four of the NTSB’s eight most-wanted recommendations will addressed by the medical certification and national registry rules,” she said, adding that the remaining recommendations would be addressed by the agency’s medical review board.
The top Republican on the committee’s panel on highways, Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) also questioned the GAO (Government Accountability Office) conclusions.
“I am concerned this report will be seen by some to imply a broader problem in the CDL population,” he said. “In fact, the report makes it clear that these 15 cases are not representative of the commercial driver population.”
Oberstar was unconvinced and pointed to a report by the transportation committee’s staff that also noted issues with the medical certification program.
“Staff got 600 medical card from drivers at truck weigh stations, and thy tried to verify them with the medical examiners who issued the card, or allegedly issued the card,” he said. “The report documents 30 cases -5%- where the medical examiner didn’t exist, or the medical examiner indicated that the signature of that person had been forged or changed.”
Oberstar, as well as, Rep Peter DeFazio, the chairman of the highways sub-committee, pressed McMurrayto explain why the agency has taken so long with its medical rules, which she said have been “difficult to develop.”
DeFazio asked McMurray if the agency had the resources to complete the rules, but she answered that it wasn’t a “matter of resources, as much as it is a problem of expertise.”
McMurray also said that “other rule-makings” have taken priority over the medical rules, but without specifying which ones.
The rules are also complicated by cost issues, she said, telling Oberstar they are “a significant burden on states.”
That burden, McMurray said, comes in costs to upgrade information technology to handle new databases, and new training requirements for enforcement officers and medical examiners.
“The sheer size of the driver population will require thousands of certified medical examiners to evaluate drivers,” McMurray also added.
Oberstar, however, said the agency lacked “a safety mindset,” and, if it had one, “you would have done this in the last eight years.”
“What we need is will -and willpower- at the highest levels, he said. “And it is apparent there isn’t that will at the level of the secretary of Transportation and permeates all the way down through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.”