Truck Driver's Health
Forged DOT Medical Cards Keep Unfit Drivers On the Road
When investigating the cause of a commercial trucking accident, one facet that receives very little attention is the medical history of the vehicle’s driver. In many cases this is due to the belief that if the driver is not showing any signs of intoxication or any major condition at the time of the accident, then drivers is assumed to be in good health. More specifically, the driver is assumed not to have had a medical incident such as a seizure prior to an accident.
The government agency that regulates commercial trucking, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, requires that commercial drivers complete a Department of Transportation physical exam every two years because this examination is supposed to insure that each driver is medically fit enough to drive. If a driver fails to pass this physical exam he or she will not be issued a medical certificate or “card,” which is required to operate a commercial motor vehicle and to obtain or renew a drivers commercial driver’s license.
As part of the exam, the driver is required to “truthfully” complete a personal medical history questionnaire which asks questions about the driver’s medical history regarding things such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, seizure disorder, or any other potentially “disqualifying” medical conditions. If a driver deliberately falsifies this questionnaire, he or she will be disqualified from operating a commercial vehicle.
As a method to make sure that truck drivers with disqualifying medical conditions do not engage in “doctor shopping,” the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and other agencies that operate under the Department of Transportation maintains a database of 1) all approved medical professionals who are approved to administer the examinations and 2) the results of all examinations, which can be cross-checked each time the drivers’ license is renewed.
This system, which is supposed to protect the public and the trucking industry, is not foolproof.
- August, 2014: A former chiropractor, 74-year-old Paul Bateman, was arrested and charged with 609 counts of forgery and three counts of fraud. Bateman issued “several hundred” fraudulent medical cards to unqualified drivers at both truck stops and his place of business. The New Mexico State Police found that Bateman’s medical examiner’s certificate number was fraudulent.
- September, 2015: In Brooklyn, NY Gerald Surya, M.D., was charged in federal court with falsely certifying physical examinations for commercial drivers. The complaint charges that Dr. Surya certified that he had examined applicants for commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) and found them physically fit to drive heavy commercial vehicles when he had not performed the examinations.
- October 2016: Joann Wingate, a chiropractor whose license had been suspended, had been offering medical services to drivers since at least 2009. After the state discovered that she was giving physicals to truckers, they suspended her chiropractic license. In order to keep working, she took the identity of a local psychiatrist with the same last name and used the psychiatrist’s information to submit medical forms.
- December, 2016: Federal authorities charged a chiropractor operating out of an Atlanta truck stop with falsifying required medical exams for truckers. The probe began when federal investigators learned Anthony Lefteris conducted an average of 360 medical exams per month, when other medical professionals typically conduct 13 or 14. Lefteris skipped required tests such as vision, hearing and a urine sample, but filled out forms indicating he had done so.
It is worth noting that all of the above frauds took place for an extended period of time after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s database was in place. The fact that such fraudulent medical certificates could be accepted without question, and that there were over a thousand certificates issued by just four people makes it quite easy to suspect that there are probably a few more practitioners that are still out there, meeting what appears to be a lively market for fake papers.
There have always been scammers who will find a ready market for shortcuts. But arresting a few that made mistakes and managed to get themselves arrested means that someone else will jump in to fill the void in the market and, if they learned from the mistakes that the others made, will avoid detection until they get careless and so on and so on and so on.
And in the meantime, medically unfit drivers will continue to move freight over the highways.
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