Author: Dr. David Thorpe, President Pass My Physical, LLC
We get many questions through our blog relating to many different topics. I had one this week that related to waiting periods. It was from a driver that had suffered a heart attack, and when he went in for his exam with a clearance letter that provided a full release to return to work, the medical examiner informed him that he had to wait a couple more weeks due to a required waiting period. The drivers question to me of course related to how he could return to driving sooner?
Unfortunately for the driver, the key word relating to waiting periods, where they exist (there are many), is that they are “required”. That means that the medical examiner MUST follow the waiting period. So in this case, a heart attack, the driver will need to wait a full two months before returning to driving even if the cardiologist indicates that he is fully capable after six (6) weeks. The medical examiner cannot vary from a waiting period regardless of a treating provider’s opinion.
What Are Waiting Periods?
Waiting periods or defined time frames that a driver must wait following a health related event (like a heart attack) regardless of any treating provider’s opinion. The time frames are based on research statistics relating to necessary recovery times following the event (or treatment such as surgery) that ensure that the driver is safe to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Also, as it relates to recurrence of an episode (strokes and seizures are a good examples), the time frame is based on the chance that driver will suffer another episode. Basically, the waiting period will be to ensure that there is no greater chance of suffering an episode than would normally be in a health adult.
What Conditions Typically Have Waiting Periods?
As you can figure out, waiting periods can be for many different types of conditions and treatments. They exist mostly however in three (3) areas of concern for drivers:
- Cardiovascular disease (heart and blood flow problems)
- Neurologic Conditions (seizures, brain injuries, strokes, TIAs)
- Mental disorders (primarily for major depression involving hospitalization, suicide attempt)
When they relate to cardiovascular problems, they will range anywhere from one (1) week (the shortest) if you have a stent put in, to up to 1 year if you have a heart transplant. Typically they will be two (2) to three (3) months (most often three months for any surgical procedure).
For neurological conditions the waiting periods are much longer. They range anywhere from one (1) year (following a stroke for example) to up to 10 years (symptoms free without the need for medication for a seizure disorder like epilepsy).
For mental problems they can range from six (6) months to one (1) year.
Do They Exist For All Medical Conditions?
No they do not. Waiting periods for example do not exist for most orthopedic conditions. Such things as broken bones, back strains and pinched nerves do not have waiting periods. The decision to return a driver to work will be a cooperative effort between the medical examiner and the treating provider. The key in this is a safe return to work WITHOUT ANY RESTRICTED OR LIGHT DUTY RECOMMENDATION. A driver needs to always be aware of the fact that there is no light duty allowed for driving a commercial motor vehicle regardless of what the treating provider says. So, if the driver is release after a back surgery for example, six (6) weeks, then the driver may return (unlike with the heart attack) if they are released to full duty without any restrictions.
Are There Exemptions Available?
They actually do exist for some of the longer waiting periods. Seizure disorders requiring treatment have an exemption whereby a driver may take their medication and get back to driving after waiting only five (5) years. They are very difficult to obtain however and the exemption has many requirements that the driver and treating provider must meet. Any variation of treatment or episode eliminates the chance for an exemption of this type.
Can A Driver Make Sure They Get Back In The Cab ASAP?
Work cooperatively with the medical examiner. Understand ahead of time what is required to return to work following a required waiting period. Obtain all documentation such as medical clearances and any required testing to present to the medical examiner when you go in for your exam, and go in as soon after the required waiting period. By doing this, and as long as all other aspects of your exam are okay, you should be able to get back to work right away.