Drivers will first be given a "forced whisper" test from the side. The examiner will stand at least 5 feet away and ask the driver to repeat a simple two-syllable word, such as apple. The examiner judges the driver based on their ability to hear and the word.
Drivers who fail the whisper test must pass an audiometer. This is a testing device that emits tones to test hearing range. An audiometer will show if a driver's hearing is good enough to qualify to drive a commercial motor vehicle. Most doctors' offices won't be able to use audiometry testing on a person with a hearing aid. A driver will need to be referred for more accurate testing in such cases.
It is essential to note that if a driver tests with a hearing aid, they must use them at all times while driving. These drivers will also be required to carry a backup power source for their hearing aids.
The FMCSA's exemption program is for drivers who otherwise cannot meet the requirements of FMCSA Regulations Section 391.41 (b)(11). This regulation prohibits drivers who fail the hearing test from operating interstate CMVs.
Applicants are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Drivers will be required to submit a full medical history for examination.
See Also: DOT Physical Exemptions
See Also: FMCSA Driver Exemption Programs
Few know that truckers can be legally deaf and still be a CDL licensed driver. This is due to a historic exemption that the FMCSA granted several deaf drivers in 2016. There were still restrictions placed on the drivers. They couldn't operate with passengers and the original exemptions that were granted expired in 2019.
Per the FMCSA, the hearing requirements for all CMV drivers are:
A person is physically qualified to drive a CMV if that person: First perceives a forced whispered voice in the better ear at not less than five feet with or without the use of a hearing aid or if tested by use of an audiometric device, does not have an average hearing loss in the better ear greater than 40 decibels at 500Hz, 1000HZ and 2,000 Hz with or without a hearing aid when the audiometric device is calibrated to the American National Standard Z24.5-1951.
It helps to know that a whisper is around 20 decibels (dB). And dBs measure how intense a sound is; a rock concert ranges in the 80-120 dB range. Hertz (Hz) is used in testing to represent tones. Bass is on the low end, and high-pitched sounds are on the higher end of the spectrum. Truckers will be tested on the entire frequency range. More on the testing procedures below.
The Weber and Rinne tests are not a standard part of the DOT physical. However, the Weber and Rinne hearing tests are commonly used to determine if an individual has hearing loss. These tests may be used as part of a private physical hearing exam.
According to the FMCSA's own hearing requirements:
“A person is physically qualified to drive a CMV if that person: First perceives a forced whispered voice in the better ear at not less than five feet with or without the use of a hearing aid….”
This brings us to the question of what exactly a “forced whisper” is. This is a bit of a gray area, as some examiners may stand exactly five feet away, and others may go even further. If you've never had your hearing examined before, this video shows how a typical DOT hearing exam might go.
This video focuses on what drivers can expect during a DOT hearing test:
An audiogram is a hearing test that requires the patient to listen to a series of tones through earphones. The tones will be played for one ear at a time, and drivers will be asked to indicate when they hear a tone. Because the earphones are in-ear, hearing aids can't be used.
Yes, hearing aids are allowed during testing. Let your examiner know about your hearing aid, which ear it is in, and any other pertinent information. The driver's hearing will still be tested, and a note will be made that the driver wears a hearing aid. This will restrict the driver to only being able to operate with a hearing aid in the future.
If you fail an initial DOT hearing test, don't worry. As noted above, if drivers can correct their deficiency with a hearing aid, they may be able to get an exemption.
Last year, I failed the forced whisper test and the follow-up audio booth test. The doctor had to deny my med card renewal, and the state of Nebraska suspended my license until I either corrected the problem or relinquished my CDL. A couple of thousand dollars in hearing aids later and a doctor's note allowed me to retake and pass the physical and get my license reinstated.
As a side note... We didn't really have the money, and most insurance companies don't cover hearing aids. But we made it work, and I wish I had done it years ago. I'm only 35 years old but have been partially deaf my entire life, almost completely in the left ear, substantially in the right, and that constant, horrible ringing. After getting fitted for quality hearing aids, my quality of life has increased substantially. I used to miss out [on] all sorts of little things, but now I'm part of the world.
…My damaged hearing is perhaps my number one worry in getting into trucking. Well, I received my hearing aids yesterday from my VA doctor at no expense to me, and for that, I am thankful. While there, I asked the audiologist about the forced whisper test, and he demonstrated it to me without hearing aids on. I could make out what he whispered, but I was looking right at him as the test [was] actually given with the doctor to one side. Even so, I can tell you, with the hearing aids on, I will be able to hear a forced whisper without trouble, as the amplification can be turned up even higher on these things. Now I have one less thing to worry about myself. When I walked outside the clinic, I was amazed at [what] I was hearing that I [didn't] notice before. Birds [were] singing, cicadas, the car door open alarm, etc. These things are indeed life-changing.
I have horrible hearing in my left ear. The doctor even noticed a hole in it from a ruptured eardrum but passed my two physicals so far, no problem at all.
The physical I went to for school and for us Xpress, it was pretty much they whispered something, and I answered them... Didn't really even have to understand them, just had to hear them.
The physical I just did this past Monday for Knight in Katy, TX, actually had me wear these super stylish 80s headphones and hold this little buzzer thingy and push the button anytime I heard it beep. Some of them were easy [to hear], some more difficult [to hear]. Did it [to] both ears. [Sometimes] I wasn't sure if my ears were ringing or hearing the beep because it was such a quiet one. I still passed, though. That physical was by far the most thorough one I have ever done in my life. [It was] to the point of being annoying. When you have already done two in three months, a third starts to cross the line. I get it. The company wants you to do their test, but come on, man. Oh well, life goes on.
I can't hear out of one ear and had no problem getting hired...
Mount Sinai's Guide to Audiometry
American National Standard Z24.5-1951
FMCSA Hearing Test Type Explainer
A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:
A commercial motor vehicle is any vehicle used in commerce to transport passengers or property with either:
The CSA is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiative to improve large truck and bus safety and ultimately reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities that are related to commercial motor vehicle
The FMCSA was established within the Department of Transportation on January 1, 2000. Their primary mission is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.
What Does The FMCSA Do?
A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.
State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.
A CMV is a vehicle that is used as part of a business, is involved in interstate commerce, and may fit any of these descriptions:
Commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another, regulated by the Federal Department Of Transportation (DOT).
BMI is a formula that uses weight and height to estimate body fat. For most people, BMI provides a reasonable estimate of body fat. The BMI's biggest weakness is that it doesn't consider individual factors such as bone or muscle mass. BMI may:
It's quite common, especially for men, to fall into the "overweight" category if you happen to be stronger than average. If you're pretty strong but in good shape then pay no attention.