You may find it shocking to hear that the federal government provides truck drivers who are partially blind permits to drive their trucks in certain circumstances.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the division of the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates commercial trucking, actually has programs that allow truck drivers with certain medical issues to operate trucks and drive them across state lines, provided they can pass certain fitness tests and standards.

Trucking’s Vision Exemption Program

The program in question is the “Vision Exemption Program,” which, according to the FMCSA, allows for “drivers with a vision deficiency in one eye who have demonstrated at least three years of safe driving experience operating a commercial motor vehicle where they receive the license.”

A driver who can meet a series of specific safety criteria can get a waiver, or exemption, from the government, which allows them to drive commercial trucks from state to state. The exemption must be renewed every two years. According to FMSCA, there are about 2,500 truck drivers driving with said exemptions in this country. Currently, the burden is on drivers to provide evidence that the vision in their “better eye” meets certain federal requirements, and that the condition that affects the bad eye is stable.

Trucking Accidents Happen

On July 21, according to NBC, truck driver Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, who is completely blind in his right eye, sped through a construction zone in Illinois and failed to keep a proper look-out for other vehicles, resulting in a chain-reaction crash that claimed the lives of five people.

Espinal-Quiroz had previously received a FMCSA vision waiver, which he renewed every two years. FMCSA published Espinal-Quiroz’s name in the Federal Register this past June, (one month prior to the waiver becoming effective, per their standard process) in order to allow the public to comment. Upon completion of said process, the waivers are effective.

The Semi Truck Accident Aftermath

In addition to criminally charging Espinal-Quiroz with multiple counts of reckless homicide, family members of the victims have begun filing civil lawsuits against him. In addition, an attorney of one of the families has written to their Congressman regarding reviewing the Vision Exemption Program that allows vision-impaired truck drivers on the road in the first place.

The attorney claims that the exemption Espinal-Quiroz received was granted without the mandatory disclosures required by law. Finally, the FMCSA suspended the operating authority for the trucking company Espinal-Quiroz owned (which consisted of just the single truck that Espinal-Quiroz was driving the time of the crash). However, the FMCSA stated that their suspension had nothing to do with Espinal-Quiroz’s vision waiver but instead was for not cooperating in the investigation “of the carrier’s compliance with federal safety regulations.”

While it is disconcerting that the Vision Exemption Policy even exists and it is very tragic this accident occurred, perhaps now the program will be reviewed to determine if it should be overhauled or, more drastically, discontinued. As we have stated in a prior blog, accidents involving trucks can be much more serious than accidents involving smaller vehicles. As a result, we need our truck drivers to be in good physical shape, and most certainly need their vision to be good enough to prevent crashes from occurring, or minimize damage resulting from crashes.

Steve was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. As was the practice for new doctors his father worked day and night during his medical residency at Charity Hospital there. Steve comes from a long line of doctors. His father, his grandfather, his great grandfather, even two uncles were all specialists and/or surgeons in their chosen medical specialties, including internal medicine specialist, obstetrics / gynecology, neurosurgery and general practice / surgery. His great-great grandfather was the Surgeon General of Ohio during the Civil War.