Of the 5.5 million motor vehicle accidents in 2009, 341,000 involved commercial vehicles such as 18-wheeler trucks and interstate buses, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Each day, thousands of commercial drivers are on the roads operating heavy trucks and buses. These drivers have to meet certain qualifications before they can obtain a commercial drivers license (CDL) and hit the roads. Part of these licensing qualifications includes medical certification. In the past, safety advocates have criticized the medical certification requirements, as these certificates could often be issued by facilities with questionable medical qualifications.

But that is about to change. In an effort to make sure that drivers are medically capable of driving these commercial vehicles, a new federal regulation went into effect on January 30, 2012. This regulation requires all interstate CDL holders in Texas – and throughout the U.S. – to provide proof of their medical fitness from their home state’s licensing agency or department of motor vehicles (DMV).

All CDL holders now have to provide proof of medical certification upon any licensing action, including renewals, transfers and upgrades. Each state has determined its own standards for what format and form of medical certification is acceptable.

As part of the new federal regulation, each state is also required to input medical certification proof into the federal commercial driver’s license system (CDLIS) by January 30, 2014. This requirement was added so that law enforcement officials can access the information electronically, particularly during a traffic stop. To fill the gap between now and when all electronic information is available, CDL holders are responsible for carrying a copy of their medical certification with them until January 2014.

In addition to the above changes, the new regulation also requires drivers to state whether they are interstate or intrastate drivers, and whether they fall into an exempt category, such as school bus drivers or fire truck drivers.

It is the hope of this federal regulation and several other recent trucking regulations that our nation’s roads will become safer. These regulations have been enacted to address rising concerns about motor vehicle and trucking accidents involving commercial drivers. Regulations target accidents related to distracted driving (including truckers that text or talk on handheld cell phones while driving), inexperience, fatigue, drowsiness and substance abuse.

While our government can pass laws and enact regulations in an effort to make driving safer, truck and car accidents will always happen. And when they do, it is important to know the laws that come into play and your rights.