Driver Wellness Programs and the FMCSA - What's it all about?


So, what is it all about?  The FMCSA,  a regulatory agency, is talking about wellness for truckers??  HMMM —  should drivers be worried?  Why is FMCSA doing this?  Is it an attempt by the federal government to tell drivers what to do with their bodies? Are they going to regulate our exercise, smoking and weight?  

These are some of the questions drivers are asking about FMCSA’snew initiative to provide wellness programs in a private/public partnership.  The questions arise from an announcement about a public meeting between the Motor Carrier Safety Administration Advisory Committee (MCSAC) and the Medical Review Board (MRB). Both groups are advisory committees that provide recommendations to FMCSA regarding specific questions, ideas, or concerns about commercial motor vehicle operation.  

The latest joint meeting, September 21 and 22, 2015,  was devoted to CMV driver wellness programs.  According to the meeting announcement, “Together, the MCSAC and MRB will identify concepts the Agency and stakeholders should consider in relation to the issue of health and wellness of drivers of commercial motor vehicles and the establishment of a driver wellness initiative, a non-regulatory public-private partnership of stakeholders to improve drivers' health. The MRB and MCSAC will discuss the structure, content, delivery, and evaluation of this initiative.”

I attended the first day of the meetings and listened to the presentations about current wellness program activity from OOIDA, FMCSA, American Bus Association, as well as a member of the MRB. I heard the questions of the committee members and the comments from the public. I learned statistics about the current driver health risks compared to the average American. I was impressed with the sincerity, the concern and the depth of the discussion. It is exciting to hear all the activity around helping drivers stay healthy live longer!  

Having heard the non-regulatory direction in which the Agency is moving. I applaud the effort! 

A few of the statistics presented by Dr. Morris of the MRB show that a high percentage of drivers have adverse health risk factors: 

  • Most Tucker's are 40 to 54 years old 
  • 86% are overweight or Obese (2007 data) 
  • 69% are obese,  twice that of US population
  • 8% exercise regularly, compared to 21% of adults in the US who exercise regularly. 
  • 51% drivers smoke, compared to 17.8% of US population who smoke  
  • Less healthy than average person 
  • Many have at least two risk factors for heart disease

So knowing that the average driver is less healthy than the average American and knowing that the driver’s health status affects his/her ability to earn a livelihood, the Agency and many other organizations are moving to help drivers.

FMCSA is seeking ways to help drivers stay healthy, minimize illness and diseases complications that will cut short their driving career and, perhaps, their life!  One part of their initiative is a new web page on driver wellness.  It will be an on-line newsletter updated quarterly with articles about various health topics pertinent to drivers.  It will include recipes of the month,  driver success stories and healthy eating tips.   The page will also include links to other sites that will be helpful to drivers. 

The Agency is also looking at ways to get more data about what drivers need.   FMCA reported on a study of driver health conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).    But, as one member of the MRB stated, “We need more biometric data,” especially to measure the programs success.  So the Agency is looking to private organizations who can gather data anonymouslyand can report on any changes that occur over time .    Do drivers lose weight and, if so, does their blood sugar level improve?  Does their blood pressure improve?  If drivers exercise more, do they lose weight?  What is most effective in aiding weight loss?

OOIDA reported on their wellness initiative and discussed ways to expand their initiative.  The American Bus Association presented information about the Bus Athlete Programs.  Group discussion brought out a lot of important information.  For example, the Teamsters have a long history of wellness programs but no measurements.  Some organization are starting health coaching at truck stops.  

My impressions from the meeting are: 1) much of what is happening in driver wellness is a shotgun approach with little coordination; 2) Many of the driver wellness programs offer what they think the driver needs and they don’t measure to determine what helps, what works and what doesn’t - what approach is successful.  3) FMCSA is trying to bring some coordination and continuity to driver wellness programs, working with non-governmental organization and private industry. 

During the first day of the meeting several ideas arose, such as: 

  • Programs for each driver should be individualized. 
  • One-to one,  face-to-face contact is important in motivating people. 
  • Trucker families should be involved.
  • There is a lack of literature on nutrition, health and wellness at truck stops.
  • Drivers don’t know the nutritional content of the foods served at the truck stops
  • It is important to get all aspects of the trucking industry working together - truck stops, fleets, drivers, associations,  etc.  
  • Give medical examiners information on wellness to hand out to drivers.
  • Assist medical examiners to educate drivers on attaining optimum health and maintaining wellness. 

It seems that when it comes to wellness and health we all need to trust one another and work together to help drivers and their families minimize illness and the costs associated with it, increase health and the energy that comes with it.  Having an agency coordinate the effort is a worthwhile venture that can have really dramatic results for drivers. 

I look forward to seeing the MCSAC/MRB joint recommendations for FMCSA.  Since I wasn’t able to attend the second day of the meeting, when they developed the recommendations, like you, I will have to wait until the recommendations are published to see what transpired.  But, in any case, the effort is underway.  It is a significant move for a regulatory agency to develop a non-regulatory program.   

As soon as I learn about the recommendationsand the Agency’s next steps, I will let you know in another article.