On October 27, 2014 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Medical Review Board (the Board) and the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC) approved a recommendation that would amount to a significant change in the medical regulations if the recommendation were to become part of the official safety scheme of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The doctors who advise the FMCSA on medical matters opined that truck drivers who use prescribed narcotics (Schedule II medications) should not be allowed to drive while taking these medications.  Although changing the rules could take years to get through the rulemaking process, a more immediate result could be a change in the truck driver medical exams.

Currently, drivers are permitted to operate vehicles while taking prescribed narcotics, as long as the drugs are prescribed by a doctor who is familiar with the driver’s condition.  Because these medications are now allowed, the Board and the MCSAC recommended that the current medical guidelines be revised to include a questionnaire that gives medical examiners more information about the driver’s condition and medications.

The new questionnaire would ask the medical examiner to list the medications and dosages prescribed, along with any other medications the examiner knows have been prescribed by other healthcare providers.  The questionnaire would also inquire as to what conditions the medications were prescribed.  The medical examiner must then state whether the medications prescribed, or the condition for which they were prescribed, would adversely affect the driver’s performance.   The proposed questionnaire will have to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget, but should be available to medical examiners within six months.

Although the members of the Board believe that the questionnaire will improve safety by giving medical examiners a better way to account for these types of medications, the decision by the MCSAC was not unanimous.  There were concerns that the use of the questionnaire could encourage examiners to decline driver certification for drivers using these medications.  This concern is based on the requirement for the medical examiner to indicate if the medication would impair the driver’s performance.  This requirement of the medical examiners gives them a great deal of discretion and could encourage them to find some level of impairment which would preclude the driver from driving.  There was also concern that the questionnaire might discourage drivers from taking medications they actually need.

Although safety should always be a primary concern for drivers and the public, the general consensus seems to be that this matter should go through the rulemaking process so that the issue of whether drivers should be able to work while on Schedule II medications is fully vetted.