A Guide to DOT Physical Eye Exams
Eye exams are a part of DOT physicals, and a certified medical examiner must perform them. These eye exams measure the driver’s visual perception. If you are applying for your commercial driver’s license, you must pass the eye exam before you start your CDL training. You can search for a “DOT physical near me” to find your nearest medical examiner.
Your medical examiner performs the physical exam but not the road test, so you do not have to disclose any vision condition to the road tester. Specific vision diagnoses may require a road test to verify they do not affect your ability to drive safely.
Here is an overview of the eye exam and tips to help you prepare for it:
Eye Exam Components
1. Visual Acuity or Distance Vision
Certified medical examiners typically have you read a Snellen chart, the rows of letters that get smaller as you read down the page. They will have you read off as far as you can with both eyes, then just your left and right separately. You will need to read the first five rows or better, demonstrating at least 20/40 vision in both eyes. Having 20/40 vision means that you can see at 20 feet what individuals with “perfect” vision can see at 40 feet. You would be slightly near-sighted but would not need corrective lenses unless your optician was concerned about vision degradation. Speak to an eye doctor if you are worried about your Snellen chart results.
2. Field of View
To be certified to drive safely, you must have a field of vision of at least 70 degrees in each eye. The most common way to assess your peripheral vision is by holding up their fingers and asking when they go out or back into view along the side of your head. They will then ask you to identify how many fingers they hold up to ensure you are honest about your peripheral vision.
3. Color Blindness
You must be able to differentiate between red, amber, and green colors to prove you can safely interpret traffic signals. Testing your color vision is straightforward. You may be asked to identify numbers in a series of images. These images are a circular design of one color with another color outlining a number. If you cannot differentiate between the colors in the image, you will not be immediately disqualified as long as you can demonstrate the ability to distinguish between red, amber, and green.
It is important to note that you can wear corrective lenses for your vision test. If you wear corrective lenses to pass your eye exam, you will be required to wear them every time you drive a commercial vehicle. However, you are not allowed to switch corrective lenses between components of the test or have one lens for distance and one for near sight. This is termed monovision which is a disqualifying condition. Note that there is an alternative vision standard for monocular vision.
The Alternative Vision Standard
There were updates to the FMCSA policy in 2022 to make it easier for drivers who do not meet the vision standards to get certified to drive a commercial motor vehicle. This standard is more collaborative and allows licensed eye doctors to evaluate your vision more precisely before the DOT provider makes the call on your ability to see well enough to drive safely.
For example, you will need an examination by a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist if you have a diagnosis of monocular vision. You are still required to meet the vision requirements in your better eye and have a stable vision deficiency, meaning your vision is not getting worse. You must also have had enough time to get acclimated to and compensate for the vision deficiency. You must take paperwork filled out by the eye doctor to your DOT physical exam so the examiner can make an informed decision. It’s form MCSA-5871, the Vision Evaluation Report, and it’s only valid for 45 days.
Tips to Help Prepare For Your Eye Exam
- Maintain a healthy diet. Eating carrots, which are high in vitamin A, can help prevent night blindness.
- Wear dark sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes from bright light and glare. If you have lighter-colored eyes, this is even more crucial. If the sunglasses bother you, try a polarized pair, as they are less likely to cause eye strain.
- Avoid smoking and substance use. They can alter vision or speed the growth of cataracts.
- Stay well-hydrated to avoid dry eyes, which contribute to eye fatigue and blurred vision. Because alcohol dehydrates you, this can also cause eye dryness, fatigue, and blurriness. At the very least, avoid drinking for a few days before your exam.
- Get adequate rest, especially before your physical, as sleep is essential for maintaining your vision.
- Wear eye protection to avoid physical irritants or damage.
- If you have diabetes, have your eyes checked frequently and pay close attention to your blood pressure and glucose levels. Consistently high levels can lead to vision damage: diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, or glaucoma.
For professional drivers, your vision is key to performing your job safely. The eye tests performed by a certified DOT medical examiner will help determine whether you are able to see the hazards and signals around you as you drive, keeping you and everyone else safe.