By: Abigail Potter, Manager of Safety and Occupational Health Policy at the American Trucking Associations
Over the last decade, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has been working towards improving standards for how commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers are medically qualified. One significant improvement FMCSA made toward standardizing the medical qualifications program was the creation of the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.
The National Registry is a database of medical examiners who are trained and tested on how to conduct FMCSA medical examinations. Additionally, the National Registry created a platform for the electronic transfer of federally required medical examinations certificates between Medical Examiners (MEs), FMCSA, and State Driver’s Licensing Agencies (SDLAs).
Primarily, the National Registry was designed to ensure that medical exams are consistent with federal regulations and guidelines. Having consistency across all MEs when conducting medical examinations for commercial drivers helps improve the safety of our roadways. While FMCSA has made strides in improving the medical qualifications programs, the process to establish a fully functional National Registry has been a challenging process.
2017 National Registry Security Breach
In December 2017, the FMCSA National Registry sustained a significant security breach to its website. The breach forced FMCSA to shut down the National Registry’s primary functions of registering certified MEs and allowing MEs to upload the results of CMV driver examinations. In April 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Security Operations Center conducted an investigation of the breach and determined that there was “conclusive evidence” that no personal data was released.
By June 22, 2018, FMCSA announced that some of the security issues with the National Registry had been resolved and were now enforcing the requirement that MEs upload all CMV driver examinations. Additionally, FMCSA stated that they did not “expect medical examiners to immediately upload results of the examinations performed during the National Registry outage,” but instead plan to issue a Federal Register notice to extend the period of time to enter the results of the examination without penalties. While the unexpected security breach did not have any significant repercussions, it did cause delays to other needed improvements to the National Registry.
Three Year Delay of the Medical Examiner’s Certification Integration
One significant delay, partially caused by the 2017 security breach, was to the full implementation of the ME’s Certification Integration final rule, published in June 2015. This rule required FMCSA to electronically transmit the driver’s medical certification information from the National Registry to the SDLAs. The SDLAs were then required to post the medical certification information electronically to a CMV driver’s motor vehicle records.
The electronic transmission of drivers’ medical certifications will eliminate the CMV driver’s responsibility from having to submit results directly to SDLAs. This will help ensure that enforcement officials and motor carriers receive accurate driver medical information, an essential component of highway safety. The electronic transmission of records will also “cut out the middleman” and thereby minimize the potential for both mistakes and for fraud. FMCSA announced that it had extended the deadline for this important improvement by three years to June 22, 2021.
Alternative Process for Veterans Affairs Physicians
On June 11, 2018, FMCSA announced changes to the National Registry that would make it easier for military veterans to obtain their required medical examination to be a CMV driver. The changes would also allow for an alternative process for physicians who are employed with Veterans Affairs (VA) to be added to the National Registry.
The alternative process allows VA physicians, who have successfully completed the online training and testing developed by FMCSA, to perform medical examinations and issue medical examination certificates to CMV operators who are military veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system. This rule was required by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and the Jobs for Our Heroes Act. Additionally, this rule clarifies the registration requirements and eliminates the 30-day waiting period before retesting for all MEs. This rule will take effect on August 10, 2018.
With over 3.5 million truck drivers on our nation’s highways, safe drivers are imperative. While the National Registry isn’t perfect and has faced some challenges the database serves a valuable purpose by establishing consistent medical standards for all CMV drivers. These standards eliminate unsafe drivers and helps keep our roads safe.