Helping to make roads safer

With all of the heavy traffic from the oil patch and the increase in population, highways in the region have become busier and unfortunately, also more accident-prone. Recently, though, the U.S. Department of Transportation has taken a step to help prevent accidents on the highways.

The USDOT has recently launched a national registry of medical providers who are allowed to give medical clearance to those who are seeking a commercial driver’s license. Sanford Occupational Medicine providers are all certified in giving the medical exam for commercial drivers. The only exception is one doctor who just began working at the Dickinson clinic and is in the process of being certified.

Dr. Joel Blanchard, medical director of Sanford Occupational Medicine Clinics, said before this new step in certification was taken, any medical practitioner could provide the medical exam needed for the CDL. Now, however, every practitioner needs to take a course and pass an exam so that he or she is familiar with the DOT medical exam, he said.

“The goal is to have the person be safe and healthy on the road and to make the roads safer,” Blanchard said.

Motor vehicle accidents involving commercial drivers count for 9 percent of deaths, Blanchard said. The area of certification was an issue and the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration had been looking at it for a number of years, he added.

Sanford Health has occupational medicine clinics in Minot, Bismarck, Dickinson, Fargo, Bemidji, Minn., and Sioux Falls, S.D.

“To have the roads safer is exciting,” Blanchard said about the new registry for physicians. “We’re hoping to be part of the contribution to making the roads safer.”

Operators of commercial vehicles need to meet certain standards when trying to obtain a CDL. Blanchard said now the physicians are more aware of the regulations and practices in clearing people for the medical exam. Some of the medical issues standing in the way of a person seeking a CDL include sleep apnea, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or certain medications affecting alertness (like sedatives or painkillers).

There are some commercial drivers who may have been cleared before this latest registry was established, Blanchard said, and who maybe wouldn’t be cleared now. It might be harder for commercial drivers to get cleared now, he added.

“We’ll help them through the process as best we can,” Blanchard said. “We’re here to guide them.”