Recommendation to MRB: Use your heads

By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

The Medical Review Board is a tricky group to follow.

The MRB, a panel of appointees that make medical recommendations to FMCSA, didn’t meet for most of 2010.

They followed that up, however, with serious action late last year, and appear poised to make this their most aggressive year yet.

Appointed by the U.S. transportation secretary, board members make sweeping announcements, yet they still can’t regulate or mandate anything. Their recommendations are forwarded to FMCSA, which may adopt, ignore or amend anything forwarded their way by the MRB.

As Land Line pointed out in December 2011, the Medical Review Board’s members appear to be in a hurry to implement serious changes that unnecessarily affect the livelihoods of tens of thousands of experienced truckers.

Now the MRB wants FMCSA to crack the whip even harder on truckers.

MRB’s proposed recommendations would automatically disqualify drivers who a) report excessive sleepiness “during the major wake period while driving,” or b) experience a crash associated with falling asleep. Drivers who experience a single-vehicle crash would have that crash counted against them as an apnea risk factor.

“With a single vehicle crash, there should be a presumption the driver experienced fatigue at the wheel,” read notes from one MRB subcommittee meeting.

That’s right – hit a deer or bump into that illegally parked truck or dumpster in the dark corner of a truck stop or shipping yard and the MRB wants you sleep tested. That’s how aggressive and out of line the MRB has become.

At the MRB’s joint meeting with MCSAC in December, several doctors guffawed over the fatigue doctors often operate under. They may have laughed about the high number of hours they work at a time, and how much doctors rely on coffee – but this isn’t something to joke about.

As Land Line has pointed out, medical errors by physicians and hospitals kill a minimum of 40,000 Americans annually – eclipsing fatalities involving commercial trucks by a wide margin.

Yet these doctors, even ones who serve on the MRB, don’t log any sleep schedule, or turn over their work schedule to police officers.

Though the MRB’s sleep apnea recommendation to FMCSA is just that – a recommendation – let’s hope the board’s doctors use their heads when making suggestions about just who should or shouldn’t be behind the wheel of commercial vehicles.

Because, let’s face it: Recommending FMCSA treat truckers as sleep-deprived maniacs is starting to look pretty hypocritical for Medical Review Board members. LL