A Minneapolis municipal bus driver who collapsed suddenly behind the wheel of a Metro Transit bus last week has sparked more debate on the physical fitness requirements for drivers at the helm of passenger buses.
The Hennepin County, Minn., medical examiner’s office found that driver John L. Senior Jr., 58, “suffered a sudden collapse,” according to the StarTribune, causing him to lose control of the bus. Mr. Senior later died of natural causes.
WCCO reported that there were less than a dozen passengers on the bus when it careened onto a downtown sidewalk, running over garbage cans, hitting lamp posts, and scraping against buildings before coming to a stop in a plaza. One passenger was injured while trying to gain control of the vehicle. Another person outside the bus received minor injuries when the bus clipped his bicycle.
According to the StarTribune, Mr. Senior stood at 6’1” and had a history of weight problems stretching back to 1988 – the year he lost his job as a firefighter after his weight reached 400 pounds. The excess weight prevented him from being able to don safety equipment critical to firefighters and impeded his ability to climb a ladder, the StarTribune reported.
Mr. Senior sued to be reinstated to his firefighting position, but ultimately lost his case in the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 1996. He began working as a Metro Transit bus driver last year.
A spokesman for the agency told the StarTribune that “all operators must be medically certified by a Metro Transit-approved physician before they are hired and are required to renew their medical certifications at least every two years thereafter. These medical certifications are a (Department of Transportation) requirement to hold a Commercial Driver’s License.”
The agency also said that it offers an “extensive wellness program” to all of its employees, “including exercise equipment at all bus garages.”
MetroTransit also told the StarTribune that it screens potential employees, taking into consideration why they left previous jobs, but said that decisions are made “on a case-by-case basis.”
Many states follow Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) medical requirements for professional interstate bus and truck drivers. Federal regulators allow drivers with a clean bill of health a medical certification valid for two years. Those with high blood pressure (stable with treatment) and heart disease may be approved for one year. Other conditions, such as diabetes, sleep apnea and other disorders may require more or less frequent checkups depending on the judgment of an FMCSA-approved physician who knows the federal rules, the demands of the job, and the special risks posed by driving large commercial trucks and buses.