A government safety study reveals just who is behind the wheel of the big-rigs and commercial buses that pass dangerously close to you on the road.
And the answer will have you driving as far away from them as you can.
The 30-page General Accounting Office study, that will be released later this week, shows that there are more than a half-million commercial tractor-trailer and bus drivers with commercial licenses who are eligible for full disability benefits, yet are still driving 40-ton vehicles.
The lapse in security in the commercial driver’s license area has led to hundreds of accidents, deaths and injuries when drivers passed out, have heart attacks, or seizures.
According to the Transportation Department, 5,300 people died in crashes with commercial trucks or busses in 2006, and another 126,000 were injured.
The study finds even among healthy drivers, falling asleep, having a seizure or heart attack causes many of these crashes.
How do ill big-rig and bus drivers get a license? Sometimes they “doctor shop” to find a doctor who will either overlook their pre-existing health problems, or they seek out a second doctor after the first one has failed them.
The federal agency in charge of truckers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, was charged with completing eight safety recommendations in 2001. It hasn’t completed even one, and it’s unlikely that will be done before President Bush leaves office.
More closely monitoring and restricting doctor shopping was among the recommendations. Another would set minimum health standards before a license to drive could be issued.
“We have a major public safety problem, and we haven’t corrected it,” Gerald Donaldson, senior research director at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. He told the AP that “You have an agency that is favorably disposed to maintaining the integrity of the industry’s economic situation.”
The Associated Press, which is releasing portions of the study, found that violations of the federal medical rules occurred in every state in 2006.
A select group of states issued sanctions to drivers when they failed to carry a valid medical certificate. These 12 states had half of the violations.
Among the violations:
- A Florida bus driver who used three daily inhalers to fight his lung disease. He told investigators that he “occasionally blacks out and forgets things.” And that he “gets winded” when he walks to his mailbox. He had no medical certificate, but does have a commercial driver’s license until 2010.
Often the medical condition is discovered after the fact.
- A Kansas truck driver crossed a median and struck a SUV carrying a mother and her 10-month-old son. Both were killed. The driver pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide. He said he knew he suffered from sleep apnea but went shopping for a second doctor, without disclosing the medical condition, to receive the medical certification he needed to drive.
- When 61-year-old George Albright smashed his 70,000 lb. tractor-trailer into a group of stopped cars on I-70 near Columbia, Missouri in 2006, it was discovered he had a diabetic episode. A car of four women was killed. Albright’s employer paid $18 million in settlement to the families.
Albright, who was not injured, was acquitted this month of four counts of second-degree involuntary manslaughter.
- In 2002, the driver of a 15-passenger “Tippy Toes” day-car bus crashed into a bridge near Memphis, Tennessee, killing the driver and four of the six kids onboard. Investigators report that the children said they frequently had to wake up the driver who would fall asleep. The NTSB says he was obese and a marijuana user.
- Nine years ago, a 55-passenger bus rolled off the Interstate near New Orleans killing 22 passengers onboard. The driver had a valid driver’s license and medical certificate even though he suffered life-threatening kidney and heart conditions. The driver had been treated at least 20 times in the two years before the crash. Three months after the accident, he died of an apparent heart illness.
On Thursday, an oversight hearing by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, headed by Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, will consider creating a clearinghouse for drug test results so that employers can more easily check the health of drivers.
Oberstar has asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to investigate the extent of unhealthy truck drivers.
A General Accounting Office study finds among the more than a half-million drivers eligible for full disability benefits, more than 1,000 had vision, hearing or seizure disorders, which generally preclude someone from obtaining a commercial driving license. #