Trucker with narcolepsy asks DOT for permission to drive

An Illinois man has made an unusual request of federal authorities — he wants their permission to drive semi trucks even though he suffers from narcolepsy. Terry Curtner has asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for the first exemption from the agency’s ban on truck drivers who suffer from conditions like narcolepsy, a condition that causes sufferers to unwillingly fall asleep without warning. Current FMCSA regulations forbid the “operation of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce by persons with either a clinical diagnosis of epilepsy or any other condition that is likely to cause a loss of consciousness or any loss of ability to control a CMV, or a mental, nervous, organic, or functional disease or psychiatric disorder likely to interfere with his/her ability to drive a CMV safely.” Curtner’s exemption request explains that he is currently being treated for narcolepsy with medication and that he has not suffered from a narcoleptic attack in twenty years. Since 2015, only five other truck drivers have asked for a similar exemption, but all of them have been denied.

When considering these cases, the FMCSA pointed out that the current medical opinion showed that narcolepsy significantly increased the risk for a crash: “…the currently available evidence (both direct and indirect) supports the contention that drivers with narcolepsy are at an increased risk for a motor vehicle crash when compared to otherwise similar individuals who do not have the disorder. The strength of the evidence was rated as strong.” In denial letters to previous exemption requests from narcoleptic drivers, the FMCSA explained that even though the drivers were being treated with medication, they could not allow them to get behind the wheel of a CMV. “It is not FMCSA’s intention to impose hardship on commercial drivers,” the FMCSA explained. “CMV drivers are held to strict physical standards because of the extensive skill required to operate large trucks and buses. We regret that this action could not be more favorable.” The FMCSA is accepting public comments on the exemption request through December 27, 2018.

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