Think of what a truck driver must do to earn their commercial driver’s license.

You probably know about the Commercial Driver’s License exam and driving skills test. However, beginning Feb. 7, 2022, drivers must first have successfully completed entry-level driver training to be eligible to take the CDL skills test.

In addition, truck drivers must meet federal physical and medical requirements. Briefly, truckers must be physically capable of safely performing truck driving functions. These functions include the ability to see and hear other highway users, read road signs and follow law enforcement directions. Applicants must not suffer from seizures or other medical conditions which might cause a loss of control of their truck. Making that determination requires a physical exam conducted by a certified medical examiner.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) receives expert guidance when it comes to the physical and medical requirements placed on truck drivers. In 2005, federal highway legislation created the FMCSA Medical Review Board. It consists of five practicing physicians, non-federal government employees, appointed for renewable two-year terms.

The board has no regulatory development or program management powers. Rather, it gives FMCSA professional advice on the physical qualifications and medical standards a commercial motor vehicle operator must meet to safely drive on the highway.

Medical expert panels assisting the Medical Review Board, are doctors, academics and scientists who research the latest medical studies. The topics examined by these panels displays the depth of consideration given to ailments and disabilities which might affect the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles. As FMCSA notes, “all proposed changes to current standards and guidance will be subject to public notice-and-comment and regulatory processes.” Nonetheless, the medical expert panel research and the Medical Review Board guidance strongly influence what standards FMCSA may propose and especially how exemptions to those standards may be handled.

FMCSA has long allowed exemptions to its physical and medical requirements. The professional driver who has lost a limb or has developed diabetes, for example, may qualify for an exemption and continue driving. Those exemptions rely on expert medical review, a safe driving record, and sufficient time to adjust to the new condition.

Recently, the Medical Review Board signed off on an FMCSA proposal to streamline the exemption process for CDL holders who cannot meet today’s vision standards in one eye. Truck drivers with “monocular” vision may receive an exemption for up to 12 months in a two-step process:

1) an ophthalmologist or optometrist attests that one eye has at least 20/40 vision, a field of vision of no less than 70 degrees, the driver can recognize the standard red, green and amber colors of traffic signals; and

2) a certified medical examiner confirms the vision exam, as well as the remaining physical and medical standards a driver must meet.

Exemptions were once a lengthy and costly process for both the driver and FMCSA, requiring notice and comment on individual exemptions. Now, the direct application of medical expertise, as typified by the Medical Review Board, can allow a driver to continue their career.