In April, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a new rule that requires healthcare professionals who perform medical examinations for interstate truck and bus drivers to be trained, tested and certified on the specific physical qualifications that affect a driver’s ability to safely operate the vehicle. In addition, the final rule creates an online database, the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners, which contains the information of medical examiners who have completed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s certification process.

A DOT physical looks at a range of conditions to determine a driver’s medical fitness, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory and muscular functions, vision, hearing, sleep apnea, and epilepsy, to name a few.

What’s most interesting is that the certification process is nothing new. A certification for medical providers to perform DOT physicals has existed for years; requiring drivers to be examined by a certified physician is the change. The FAA already requires pilots to receive their physicals from an FAA-certified medical examiner. Also available for examiners is a medical guidebook to follow when performing DOT physicals. It is used daily at clinics that perform DOT physicals to ensure drivers meet the requirements to drive and are not at increased risk of accident due to any medical conditions.

Some companies may anticipate two years to prepare for a potential reduction in their driving force. That is a mistake. A driver can be cleared for between three months and two years. Therefore, there are drivers on the road right now who do not meet DOT requirements and in two years will not be certified. By statute, companies are responsible for ensuring the medical provider performing the DOT physicals know the law. They need to take an active role in knowing where their drivers are being certified to avoid rapid reductions in force over the next two years—and potential litigation.

Illinois’ school bus drivers are not exempt from these rules. The state will have a similar registry mandating school bus drivers find a certified medical examiner to perform their annual physical, according to the Medical CDL Unit office in Springfield. Illinois school bus drivers’ medical requirements differ very little from DOT/CDL drivers; they are certified annually and can only be given a one-year medical card. The Illinois registry will take effect in January 2014, giving school bus drivers until January 2013 to find medical providers who are already certified, or risk losing a number of current drivers who are not medically qualified under the regulations.

The requirements and timeframes for the truck and bus driver physicals have been set, and there will be a mechanism in place to enforce these rules. Employers, you need to plan ahead or you could find yourself with a government-imposed shortage. iBi