Suppose you’re an employer that significantly depends on Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) drivers to move goods or people. In that case, you know how crucial it is to have your drivers clear the Department of Transportation (USDOT) physical exams. This isn’t just a one-time thing before hiring—it’s a recurring commitment every 24 months. Why is this so vital? Simply put, it’s about safeguarding public safety and reducing the risk of mishaps.

What Is a USDOT Physical?

The USDOT physical is a thorough health check-up mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for people who carry commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) and work as commercial vehicle drivers.

Imagine it like a fitness test for your driving career – every 24 months, CDL drivers need to take this exam and pass it successfully. 

What Makes Up a USDOT Physical Check-Up?

  1. Comprehensive Physical Evaluation

The medical examiner will assess the driver’s overall health and appearance during the physical examination. This includes examining the eyes for conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, or macular degeneration; the ears for issues like perforated eardrums or scarring of the tympanic membrane; the mouth and throat for breathing or swallowing difficulties; and the heart for murmurs or other abnormalities.

The examiner will also evaluate the driver’s chest and lungs for respiratory issues, the abdomen for muscle weakness or liver enlargement, and the vascular system for abnormal pulse rates or varicose veins. The genito-urinary system will be inspected for hernias and the extremities for any deformities or defects affecting driving ability. Lastly, the examiner will check the spine, musculoskeletal system, and neurology to ensure no impairments or reflex issues.

  1. Vision Evaluation

For a CDL driver, maintaining a visual acuity of at least 20/40 in each eye is mandatory and achievable through corrective measures such as glasses or contact lenses. The examiner will also conduct a test to ensure the driver’s peripheral vision is not less than 70″ in both eyes.

  1. Auditory Assessment

The examiner will evaluate the driver’s auditory capabilities to ascertain if they can hear a ‘forced whisper’ within a five-foot radius. The hearing test can be passed by the driver with or without the aid of hearing devices. The objective of the forced whisper test is to determine if the driver experiences less than 40 decibels of hearing loss in their ear.

  1. Blood Pressure and Pulse Check

The examiner will record the driver’s blood pressure and pulse

Who is Required to Get a USDOT Physical?

Every driver who takes on the responsibility of transporting dangerous materials, calling for a placard to be visibly placed on their trucks, must obtain a USDOT physical. Similarly, a USDOT physical is a non-negotiable requirement if you find yourself in the driver’s seat of a vehicle designed to carry more than 15 people. Even those employed to operate vehicles carrying over eight passengers are not exempt from this rule. And remember the hardworking drivers operating vehicles with gross weights exceeding 10,000 pounds. They, too, must ensure they have their USDOT physicals. 

USDOT medical restrictions for driving

Certain physical and mental health conditions can prevent individuals from being permitted to drive. However, depending upon the nature of these medical restrictions, they may be eligible for an exemption from the FMCSA. This would require a statement from their healthcare provider confirming their ability to operate a vehicle safely.

Physical Restrictions for Drivers

As per 49 CFR, part 391 § 391.41, drivers can be disqualified due to the

  • Eyesight that is poorer than 20/40 in either eye, regardless of whether it’s corrected.
  • A field of vision that is less than 70″ in either eye.
  • Red/green color vision deficiency that may affect understanding of traffic signals.
  • Hearing problems cannot be improved to less than 40 dB from a distance of five feet.
  • Elevated blood pressure might compromise safety while operating a commercial vehicle.
  • Lung diseases that could potentially lead to fainting.
  • Heart conditions or heart failure that could disrupt your driving ability.
  • Diabetes mellitus, inclusive of those managed with insulin, without an exemption.
  • Conditions like epilepsy might cause a sudden loss of consciousness.
  • Disorders related to the musculoskeletal system could endanger the safe operation of a commercial vehicle.
  • Physical abnormalities or impairments could jeopardize safety while driving a commercial vehicle.
  • Conditions affecting the functionality of hands or fingers impeding the ability to grasp.
  • Loss of a hand, foot, leg, or arm unless you hold a skill performance evaluation certificate.

Mental Restrictions

  • Bipolar disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Severe depressive disorders: If you have a history that involves thoughts of suicide or homicide, psychosis, or attempted suicide, you might not meet the criteria.

USDOT Prohibited Medications for Commercial Drivers in 2024

FMCSA regulations disqualify drivers if they consume any Schedule I controlled substances. This rule encompasses marijuana, even if it’s prescribed medically. Furthermore, the FMCSA mandates that commercial drivers may be disqualified if they consume prescription drugs without a legitimate prescription.

Commercial drivers are required to provide a urine sample for a USDOT drug screening, which tests for recent consumption of illegal substances such as:

  • Amphetamines (including methamphetamine, amphetamine, MDMA, or MDA)
  • Marijuana
  • Opiates (such as heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, codeine, oxymorphone, hydromorphone)
  • Cocaine
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

Commercial drivers can also face disqualification for consuming any other scheduled substances, including habit-forming or narcotic drugs like benzodiazepines.

Rules have changed, new 2024 USDOT Physical Requirements

To get your medical certification, you need to meet certain standards as per the FMCSA’s 49 CFR, part 391 § 391.41.

  1. Blood Pressure: No hypertension diagnosis and a reading less than 140/90. You’re certified for two years. Hypertension patients must renew annually.

Hypertension stages affect certification duration:

  • Stage 1 (140/90 to 159/99) – Certified for one year
  • Stage 2 (160/100 to 179/109) – Certified for three months, then annually if BP drops to 140/90
  • Stage 3 (180/110 or above) – Disqualified but can retest every six months
  1. Eyesight: See clearly at least 20/40 in each eye with or without glasses, and have a peripheral vision of 70″ in both eyes. If one eye fails but you pass other physical tests, you might still qualify.
  1. Seizure Rule Proposed change: A driver with a seizure-free certificate for three years from their neurologist won’t be disqualified. Expect action on this rule by July 2024.
  2. Hearing: Hear a whisper from five feet away with or without a hearing aid. 

Ready to get your USDOT Physical?

Thanks to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners, employers can easily search and pinpoint certified examiners in the area.

Best news! Translab is ready to help; contact us for help booking your employee’s USDOT Physicals.

Translab is your trusted partner in ensuring trucking companies and owner-operators maintain compliance with stringent US DOT regulations. The company is committed to providing you with the best possible experience.

If you need a USDOT Physical CDL Medical Card, you can get it at our Elgin office. BY APPOINTMENT ONLY

Translab pricing

  • Normal price: $120.00 per Medical Card
  • Until the end of February:  $110 per Medical Card