NY Case Shows Flaws in Truck Driver Licensing

Last year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) instituted a new program that requires anyone seeking a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to first undergo a physical examination conducted only by doctors and other health professionals who are listed in the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.

The new requirement initially was met with resistance by the trucking industry based on claims that there weren’t enough medical examiners to cover all the country’s truckers, but those concerns largely have been avoided after tens of thousands of health care professionals signed up and completed the related baseline training and testing standards established by the FMCSA.

While the new policy undoubtedly has kept many unsafe drivers from getting behind the wheel of a semi or other big rig, it seems there’s always someone looking to game the system. The arrest of a New York doctor earlier this month is a prime example.

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According to federal prosecutors, Dr. Gerald Surya falsely certified an undetermined number of patients for CDLs even though they were examined by unqualified personnel in his office or they were not examined at all. That means there are people currently driving tractor-trailers, school buses and other heavy trucks in New York and elsewhere based on invalid licensing.

In announcing Dr. Surya’s arrest earlier this week, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement, “Dr. Surya’s conduct put at risk pedestrians as well as other drivers.”

While that comment is obviously correct, it’s a huge understatement. Proper licensing is the first step in any truck driver’s career. The CDL certification procedures established by the U.S. Department of Transportation are purposely complex and stringent in order to make sure drivers are ready for the job, including the requirement that drivers must be physically sound before they can be licensed.

One can only hope and pray that Dr. Surya didn’t issue a free pass to one or more of his so-called “patients” who now literally could be rolling time bombs traveling our nation’s highways. Did the fraudulent CDLs go to people who suffer from sleep disorders or vision problems, or maybe even those with drug addictions? The prosecutors handling this case owe a duty to all of us to find out and make sure that all the unqualified drivers who got a free pass from Dr. Surya are accounted for and their bogus CDLs are revoked.

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