Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008 | 2:06 a.m.
It has been known for years that many truck and bus accidents are caused by drivers who are not medically fit for their jobs, but federal regulators dawdled until this week on a new safety rule.
Truck and bus drivers have long been required to have a doctor’s certificate attesting to their fitness. The certificate must be on file with their employers and be carried with them while on the job.
The new rule adopted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says drivers must also provide a copy of the certificate to their home state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
This will help — eventually. Unfortunately, states do not have to be in full compliance until 2012. But once they have complied, motor vehicle departments will be able to identify people on the spot who are obviously not eligible to receive or renew a commercial driver’s license.
But why did this simple rule change take so long? It was one of the recommendations made in 2001 by the National Transportation Safety Board in response to a motor coach crash in 1999 that killed 22 people in New Orleans.
In that crash the driver had been hospitalized for a long-standing condition just hours before he took the wheel. A surviving passenger said the bus went out of control after the driver appeared to lose consciousness.
We called for new rules this year when a government report disclosed that 563,000 people who are eligible for full disability benefits also hold commercial driver’s licenses. We also noted a congressional finding that drivers are easily able to obtain phony doctor’s certificates — a problem the new rule does not address.
Regulators should write rules addressing all known problem areas — and do so in a much more timely manner.