New DOT fitness exams look at meds and ability

Do chronic conditions affect drivers’ ability?

The new commercial driver fitness exams from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) take a closer look at how various diseases and medications can affect driving ability over time, says an occupational health professional in Glendale, CA.

"With the worker population aging, [DOT] is assisting in not allowing drivers with chronic conditions to just be rubber stamped a license without looking at how the disease process is affecting them," notes Monika Fischer, RN, CS ANP, CCM, COHN-S, health services administrator for the City of Glendale. "The detail of the form assists and protects the examiner. DOT does feel that the safety of the driver is the employer’s responsibility."

Fischer makes a strong point when emphasizing the protection the new form affords the examiner. "It guides the practitioner through each step and provides suggestions as to course of action if abnormalities appear," she explains.

There are two areas of particular interest to Fischer. "The form asks specifically that a practitioner review medications and look at the driver not just in light of the ability to drive, but also in general job duties or roles," she notes. "One example is that if an employee is unable to load or unload a truck they are driving. This raises the question, 'Are they fit to drive it?’ If they can’t load the truck properly so that load is distributed equally, there might be greater chance of an accident."

The new recommendations also suggest the use of additional testing and the use of specialists, Fischer notes. "They suggest that there doesn’t have to be an automatic two-year renewal, but that if the employee has a medical problem requiring monitoring then the time limit can be reduced so that it may be more closely monitored," she says.

Good for everyone

Ultimately, says Fischer, DOT’s new approach will benefit employees and employers alike. "For the employee it does allow some new freedom to drive with certain medical conditions, while being more restrictive with others," she notes. "For those employees with a physical disability that may effect driving it has added the use of road tests to assure that individual can drive safely. I feel this is very practical approach."

Employers might experience increased costs if they pay for exams, since they will now be more time consuming, she concedes. "I believe that it will be better in the long run, however," says Fischer. "It will address the medical problems of the employee, ultimately reducing liability."

The employer may also be concerned that shortened times between examinations may result in the employee being unavailable to drive, therefore reducing their productivity. "Hopefully overall this may stimulate employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle to prevent or control medical conditions and to seek proper medical care to maintain health status," Fischer offers.

[For more information, contact: Monika Fischer, MN, RN, CS ANP, CCM, COHN-S, Health Services Administrator, City of Glendale, CA. Telephone: (818) 548-6488.]