Truck drivers must pass their DOT physical and get their DOT certification every two years. A DOT physical exam checks their health to ensure they're fit to drive safely. It helps prevent accidents and keep everyone on the road safe. Examiners check things like vision, hearing, and blood pressure. Passing these exams is important for truck drivers to stay healthy and keep their DOT certification up to date. 

It's a way to make sure they're fit to drive and reduce the risk of accidents. So, truck drivers must take their DOT physical seriously to maintain their reputation and safety on the road.

What is a DOT physical?

A DOT physical is a medical checkup by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to ensure you're fit to drive big vehicles like trucks and buses safely. These vehicles carry heavy loads or hazardous materials, so drivers must meet certain health standards.

During the exam, they check if you can hear well, see clearly, and stay alert while driving. Certain health conditions or medications might affect these abilities, posing risks on the road. That's why DOT requires this exam for drivers crossing state lines, and states may have similar rules for drivers within state borders.

What does the DOT physical exam include?

Before your DOT physical, bring a list of all your current medicines and fill out a medical history form. Here's what the exam involves:

  1. Neurological: This checks your reflexes to ensure your nerves work well.

  2. Blood pressure: It should be 140/90 or lower. You might need more checkups or time to lower it if it's higher.

  3. Hernia: An untreated hernia will cause you to fail the exam.

  4. Vision: Your vision should be at least 20/40 with or without glasses, and you should see 70° of the horizontal field of vision.

  5. Hearing: You must hear a whispered voice from five feet away or have less than 40 dB hearing loss in the better ear. Hearing aids are allowed.

  6. Mouth and throat: The doctor will check for breathing or swallowing issues.

  7. Heart and lungs: Since truck drivers are at risk of heart issues, they'll check your heart and lungs.

  8. Spine: They'll look for any spine problems that might worsen from driving.

  9. Urine: This checks blood sugar levels; some employers might also use it for drug testing.

  10. Abdomen: They'll press on your abdomen to check for any issues.

Things you need for your DOT physical exam

Before heading to a DOT physical, truck drivers should have a complete list of their medicines, including how much they take and when they take them. 

It's also a good idea to fill out the health history form before the appointment to save time. If you have specific medical problems, make sure to bring the right documents or items. For instance:

  • Drivers who wear glasses or hearing aids should bring them along.

  • If you have diabetes, bring your latest lab results and blood sugar records.

  • Drivers with heart issues should bring a letter from their heart doctor detailing their medical history, and current medicines, and confirming they're fit for work.

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Cost to get a DOT certification

The cost for a DOT certification isn't the same everywhere. It changes depending on where you go, and whether your employer covers it or not. Usually, getting a DOT medical card from a doctor can range from $85 to $226. But sometimes, you might find places that charge only $50. Some drugstores, like CVS, also offer DOT medical card, and they tell you the price upfront.

Where to get a DOT medical card from?

DOT physical is done by an authorized medical examiner listed in the FMCSA National Registry. These examiners can be different types of medical professionals like medical doctors (MD), osteopathic doctors (DO), chiropractors (DC), physician assistants (PA), or advanced practice registered nurses (APRN). However, not all licensed medical professionals are certified to conduct a DOT physical exam. You can find a licensed medical examiner using the national registry search tool provided by the FMCSA.

If you clear your DOT physical requirements, you'll get a Medical Examiner's Certificate (MEC), also known as your DOT medical card. This certification, combined with your commercial driver’s license (CDL), permits you to operate a commercial vehicle for 2 years unless you have any physical or mental condition that necessitates more frequent testing.

Medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and heart disease may require you to undergo an annual DOT physical. In cases of severe conditions like very high blood pressure, you might need physicals every 3 months while receiving medical treatment to address or control the condition.

Disqualifying factors of a DOT certification in 2024

According to FMCSA regulations, drivers can lose their DOT certification if they use any schedule I controlled substance. This rule applies to marijuana too, even if the driver has a prescription for it.

FMCSA also states that a CDL driver who takes prescription medication without a valid prescription can be disqualified.

Apart from the DOT physical, CDL drivers must provide a urine sample for a DOT drug test, which detects recent use of illicit substances like:

  • Marijuana

  • Cocaine

  • Amphetamines (methamphetamine, amphetamine, MDMA, or MDA)

  • Opiates (heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, codeine, oxymorphone, hydromorphone)

  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

Drivers can also lose their DOT medical card for taking any other scheduled drug, such as amphetamines, benzodiazepines, and other habit-forming or narcotic substances.

However, if a CDL driver has a valid prescription from a licensed medical doctor for a non-schedule I drug, they won’t be disqualified if the doctor assures them that the drug won’t negatively affect their ability to drive after reviewing their medical history.

Ensuring safety on the road

If you're employed in a job that's considered "safety-sensitive," like driving a commercial vehicle, you might need to undergo a DOT physical exam before or during your employment. This requirement stems from the Department of Transportation's concern for public safety, as your ability to drive safely directly impacts both yourself and others on the road. 

Federal regulations mandate that individuals acquire a DOT medical card before being hired, ensuring that they are physically capable of safely performing their job duties.

Jobs that involve interacting with the public or require a significant level of responsibility, such as commercial truck drivers or airline attendants, often necessitate health assessments to guarantee that individuals are fit to perform their duties without compromising safety.

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