The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to develop a comprehensive medical oversight program for interstate commercial drivers.
The recommendation resulted from the Board's investigation into the May 9, 1999 crash of a Custom Bus Charters, Inc. motorcoach near New Orleans, Louisiana. Twenty-two people were killed and 15 were seriously injured in the crash. The Board determined that the probable cause of the crash was the bus driver's incapacitation resulting from his severe medical conditions. Fatigue, the driver's use of marijuana and a sedating antihistamine were listed as additional factors in the crash. Also cited was the failure of the medical certification process to detect and remove the driver from service.
The report examined 6 other commercial vehicle accidents within the last 3 years where the driver's medical condition was a factor in the accident. Based on that research, the Board concluded that the failure of the commercial drivers medical certification process to identify and remove unfit drivers was a systemic problem.
The study revealed that individuals performing medical examinations for commercial drivers might lack knowledge and information vital to making certification decisions. Additionally there currently is no means to track medical certification examinations. Therefore a driver with a serious medical condition who is denied a medical certificate by one examiner may be able to obtain a certificate from another.
Recommendations made to the FMCSA called for a medical oversight system including examiners who are qualified and educated about occupational issues for drivers as well as a system to track all prior medical applications made by a driver.
The report also noted that under current U.S. Department of Transportation drug testing guidelines, positive drug test results are often not available to prospective employers. To remedy this situation, the Board recommended that the FMCSA develop a system to record all positive drug and alcohol test results and that prospective employers and certifying officials be required to check prior to hiring or certification.
Accident simulations and an analysis of possible occupant motion during the accident were also discussed in the report. Based on the analysis, the Board reiterated recommendations made to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in its bus crashworthiness special investigation report adopted in September 1999, dealing with motorcoach and school bus crashworthiness standards.
The Board's final report may be accessed on the NTSB's website under "Publications" in several weeks. In the interim, an abstract containing a complete listing of the report's conclusions and recommendations is available. Printed copies of the report may be purchased later this year from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) (800) 553-NTIS.