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The DOT Physical and Medical Qualifications

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All drivers who want to drive a CMV with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 lbs or more will be required to submit to a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical examination and be medically certified to drive.

Things that could potentially disqualify a driver, require an FMCSA exemption, or at least result in a shorter certification period, include high blood pressure, insulin-treated diabetes, physical impairments, poor hearing, or failing/refusing a drug or alcohol test.

The DOT physical must be performed by a Registered Medical Examiner, and the results will be submitted and be accessible as part of a drivers permanent record. Some states will require a driver to pass a DOT physical before they will even issue a commercial learner's permit (CLP).

What is the DOT physical?

The DOT physical is a medical examination designed to ensure that a driver is medically qualified and able to operate a commercial motor vehicle. All drivers operating vehicles weighing 10,000 lbs or more will be required to be medically certified.

Medical certification is usually valid for a period of 2 years, unless the driver has certain medical issues that require a shorter period of certification.

Where do I get a DOT physical? Can my own doctor give it to me?

No, the DOT physical MUST be performed by a FMCSA registered Certified Medical Examiner in order to be medically certified to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

What does the DOT physical include?

In short, everything. Drivers are required to provide details about their medical and health history. The examiner will check vision, hearing, blood pressure, and a urinalysis will be done. The urinalysis is required both as a test for drugs in the system, prescription or illegal, as well as check for protein, blood, and sugar, which may require further testing to rule out underlying medical problems.

The examiner will also check the drivers body system, looking for abnormalities in the ears, eyes, throat, spine, etc.

Will I have to take a drug or alcohol test?

Yes, all drivers who are applying for a CDL will be required to submit to a drug test, currently through urinalysis as the only DOT-approved method. The FAST Act of 2015 allows for hair follicle testing as a DOT-approved method, but will not be implemented until the Department of Health & Human Services establishes guidelines. Individual companies can, however, use hair-follicle testing as a condition of employment.

The DOT requires testing for these classes of drugs:

  • Marijuana

  • Opiates

  • Amphetamines

  • Methamphetamines

  • Cocaine

  • Phencyclidine – PCP

Drivers should keep in mind that many prescription drugs could fall into one of these categories, and that individual trucking companies may have their own restrictions.

Special Medical Considerations: Blood Pressure

To be medically certified, drivers are required to have a blood pressure at or below 140/90, with or without medication.

Drivers whose blood pressure checks higher than 140/90 can still be medically certified, but it will be for a shorter period of time, depending on how high it is. A BP level of 180/110 or higher is an automatic disqualification, and certification will be required every 6 months once the drivers BP is under control.

Special Medical Considerations: Sleep Apnea

The FMCSA has not issued any specific rules on testing or driving standards for sleep apnea, but addresses it like this: "Has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his/her ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely;"

The decision to require sleep apnea testing is left up to the individual companies, and will normally be based on Body Mass Index (BMI), overall weight, or neck size. Drivers will, however, be required to disclose any past or current issues regarding sleep disorders, or pauses in breathing.

Special Medical Considerations: Prescription Medications

Drivers who take prescription medications that would fall under the prohibited classes of drugs will be considered medically unqualified, with one exception: the prescribing doctor can provide a note attesting that the driver is safe to operate a commercial vehicle while taking it.

The Medical Examiner may then certify the driver, but is not required to. As always, full disclosure by the driver of any prescription medications he or she is currently taking is required, as it will show up in a drug test.

If I cannot pass the physical, how does the DOT Exemption Program for Diabetes, Vision, Hearing, and Physical Impairment work?

In the event that a driver cannot meet the DOT standards for hearing, vision, diabetes, or physical impairment, the FMCSA provides the opportunity to apply for exemptions to those standards.

Who has access to my medical records and the results of my DOT physical?

The results of the DOT physical will be submitted electronically by the Medical Examiner and kept as part of a driver's record. This will allow individual state driver's license agencies (SDLAs) to verify that drivers hold only one CDL and CDL record, and are medically certified to operate CMV's.

Will I be required to carry a physical copy of my medical card while driving?

No. As of January, 2015, commercial drivers are no longer required to carry a physical copy of their medical certification or report.

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