Can Truckers Continue Driving After Having a Seizure or Stroke?

March 18, 2020 Truck Accident Blog

Seizures, Stroke and Commercial Truck Driving Safety

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the trucking industry ranks third on a list of the top deadly occupations in the United States. At 12 percent, the fatality rate has several contributors, and one of the biggest is obesity. Some health issues, such as strokes and seizures, can lead to accidents that harm others as well.

Neurological Conditions Among Truckers

A neurological issue can be one of the most complex problems for any truck driver. A stroke or seizure disorder can leave a driver impaired. However, the long-term effects can vary from one person to another. The severity of the event, how quickly the driver seeks help and other factors may determine how well the individual recovers. Although some drivers are unable to return to their driving duties after having a stroke or developing a condition that causes them to have regular seizures, some are able to return eventually.

How Are Drivers Assessed for Capabilities After a Stroke?

Driving after a stroke is a privilege that may be granted to some individuals after careful consideration. Examining physicians who make these decisions must decide using specific criteria developed by safety organizations. They understand the implications of putting someone on the road who may be dangerous, and they understand how it may affect their reputation. In many instances, physicians reach out to the FMCSA for guidance.

Several important safety questions were asked and critically evaluated to help the FMCSA develop its guidelines for determining someone’s ability to drive commercially with a neurological condition. First, the risk of individuals experiencing another stroke was determined. Next, there was thorough thought put into whether individuals who experienced a stroke were generally at a higher risk of being in a crash. Lastly, panel participants determined whether neuropsychological testing could predict the likelihood of a crash for a stroke sufferer.

The FMCSA determined that drivers who suffered a minor stroke must wait at least a year before attempting to get back on the road. Five years is the current minimum for drivers who suffer more severe strokes that lead to significant brain bleeds. Currently, an eligible driver who has waited for the required year without any other stroke incidents can work with a doctor to obtain a medical certificate. Passing the medical examination is not a one-time event. Drivers must gain clearance every year after that initial one. To maintain clearance, no additional stroke incidents or major concerns must be present. Additionally, drivers may be required to complete on-the-road evaluations that are similar to initial CDL driving tests.

How Are Drivers Assessed for Capabilities After a Seizure?

In the past, people who took medication to control seizures were automatically prohibited from driving commercial vehicles. In recent years, the FMCSA relaxed its guidelines slightly to allow waivers for people with special circumstances. Several exceptions apply to people who used to take anti-seizure medication and to some individuals who currently take it. To qualify as someone who has recovered, a person must not currently be taking the medication and must have not taken it during the past eight years. More importantly, the individual must not have had any episodes of seizures during that same time frame.

If a person wants to qualify as someone who currently takes medicine safely, he or she must have been taking the same medication consistently for at least two years. Additionally, the individual must not have had any history of seizures during that time. In some instances, certification to drive again may be provided faster. For example, if a person suffers a single seizure because of an infection or a drug reaction, it is often safe for medical practitioners to assume that eliminating the infection or medication will remove the risk of seizures. This is applicable if the person does not have a history of seizures. In such a case, an individual may be cleared to drive again after undergoing thorough neurological examinations and assurance that the aggravating factor has been removed.

Drivers with a history of epilepsy may also qualify if they have not taken medications and/or had any seizures during the past 10 consecutive years. That specific timeline applies only to epileptic drivers. It is important to note that many other conditions are tied to seizures, and there are varying rules for those. FMCSA-approved examiners evaluate people’s ability to drive on a case-by-case basis. For example, if someone had a single seizure or lost consciousness for an unknown reason that did not warrant medication, the rules are not as strict as they are for epileptic drivers. In such a case, just to be safe, an examiner may require the person to wait six months to attempt to qualify.

Risk Factors for Truck Drivers

One of the reasons why a stroke is such a big concern for truck drivers, automobile drivers and road safety advocates is because the risk of accidents increases with the amount of time that truckers are on the road. In addition, research suggests that truckers face a high risk of developing health issues that may lead to serious and dangerous neurological conditions.

According to data from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, truck driver stroke risk was especially high because of obesity rates. The cited study found that more than 50 percent of drivers were obese, and more than 25 percent of drivers were morbidly obese. Due to these statistics, the report said that drivers had higher-than-average TIA, stroke, diabetes and hypertension rates. The researchers stated that obesity was tied to multiple conditions that could limit the ability of drivers to gain certification to drive safely.

What Does This Mean for Road Safety?

Although no system is free of errors, the system that is in place to guide medical examiners has been carefully evaluated. One concern that is harder to control is drivers not reporting seizures or episodes that may disqualify them. It is important for everyone to report truck drivers who are not being honest about medical conditions that pose safety hazards. Some safety agencies are also looking for ways to improve incentives for truck drivers to live healthier lifestyles. Since they are on the road for so many hours, it can be difficult to find time to exercise. Additionally, many truck drivers do not have access to healthy or fresh food.

The heightened risks for obesity and related conditions that can lead to dangerous stroke incidents or seizures are important for all truck drivers to consider. In an accident, a truck driver, or the company that employs the driver, may be held liable for damages if the driver causes an accident.

Legal Help for Truck Accidents in New Jersey

Although truck accidents stemming from seizures or stroke incidents are not as common as some other types of collisions, we can help if you were injured in such an accident and need an attorney who understands trucking law. Distracted or sleepy drivers and poor road conditions are also contributors to large truck accidents. We help victims obtain compensation for their injuries and property losses. For a free consultation with a New Jersey trucking law attorney, please contact us. You can call us at (732) 247-3600. If you prefer email, you can reach us at contact@ram.law. Also, you can stop by our Freehold location at 31 West Main Street, our Somerville location at 21 North Bridge Street or our New Brunswick location at 111 Livingston Avenue.

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