A new safety study by the Associated Press highlights the consequences of major health problems among tractor-trailer and bus drivers. When the driver of a 40+ ton 18-wheeler suffers a seizure or heart attack, the danger to other drivers and passengers is very real. In some cases, drivers of these large trucks–or “big rigs”–and buses have caused fatal accidents when they had seizures, heart attacks or blacked out while operating their vehicles. Hundreds of injuries and deaths have been caused by these and similar incidents. The Associated Press discovered that hundreds of thousands of drivers are licensed to drive large commercial vehicles, like buses and 18-wheelers, even though their health conditions are so serious they qualify for full federal disability; more than 1,000 drivers had vision, hearing or seizure disorders which raised particular concern.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is responsible for overseeing tractor-trailer drivers, reports that safety recommendations made by regulators in 2001 have yet to be implemented. The recommendations would set objective standards for determinng whether truckers are medically safe to operate their rigs and would halt efforts by truckers to shop around for a doctor that will ignore a risky medical condition. Gerald Donaldson, senior research director for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, called the situations a “major public safety problem.”

Although truckers have been caught in volation of federal medical rules in every state, twelve states–Texas, Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Alabama, New Jersey, Minnesota and Ohio–accounted for half of the total 7.3 million violations reviewed by the Associated Press. And impaired drivers–whether by health conditions or sleep deprivation–are a leading cause of serious accidents involving 18-wheelers.

For the full story, go to MSNBC.