Yes, lying during your DOT physical can actually lead to jail time. The Department of Transportation requires drivers to have a physical exam to determine whether they are healthy and able to operate a commercial vehicle safely. This requirement keeps both drivers and other motorists safe on the roads. The DOT and the FMCSA take physical exams seriously, and omitting or falsifying information has significant consequences.
Why is it Tempting to Lie?
For those who make a living driving a commercial vehicle, their commercial driver’s license is more than just a license to drive to the office, the store, or a friend’s house for dinner. It allows them to transport people and goods across long distances. It is their livelihood. For many, it is a job they enjoy and one they are good at doing. Failing their physical would mean being out of work for a time or the foreseeable future. Failing could have very real financial consequences for them and their families. However, the consequences of lying or even omitting information during your DOT physical can also be financially disastrous.
What Does the Exam Look For?
The medical examination form asks if you have had specific medical problems or conditions. The listed conditions make it unsafe to drive commercial vehicles. For example:
- Someone with epilepsy could have a seizure with a busload of kids and crash.
- A driver with an implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD) could receive a shock to the heart at any time which is usually incapacitating.
- Someone with an inner ear condition that causes recurring episodes of dizziness and vertigo.
- A driver taking a medication that is producing side effects resulting in unsafe driving.
Not only does it endanger your passengers and the people in the surrounding communities, but if you are a long-haul trucker or running a train out in the middle of nowhere when you have an accident, you may not get help in time.
Why is Honesty So Important?
Every two years, every CDL driver must get a DOT medical card to verify they can safely operate these vehicles on public roads. Commercial drivers have to sign the Health History section of the physical on page one of the examination report form to certify that it is true and accurate and that the driver understands that inaccurate or misleading information may result in an invalid medical examiner’s certificate. That signature makes it a legally binding document.
The FMCSA relies on DOT-certified medical examiners to be thorough and use their clinical judgment on your health. You may think it is a harmless omission to leave off certain medications or conditions you have had in the past. However, doing so prevents the medical examiner from accurately assessing your health and ability to operate your vehicle safely. A medical condition that makes it unsafe for you to drive may go overlooked for a time. However, it is best for your health and the safety of those around you to address conditions as they arise. Many health conditions are manageable and will not prevent you from becoming certified to drive.
What Happens if You’re Caught?
Dishonesty never goes unpunished. The consequences of making false statements on your DOT physical will vary with the severity of the offense, but they will be impactful.
- Your medical exam is nullified if they discover the information is not completely true. Without a valid medical certificate, you cannot drive a commercial vehicle.
- You may be fined up to $250,000. Lying on a DOT physical is a federal offense, and the punishment is equally as severe. You could face up to five years in prison.
- The FMCSA can also levy civil penalties against you for hiding a disqualifying condition or making a false statement. Multiple lies will increase the fines.
- Your liability for accidents on the road increases significantly. You and your employer may be held financially and legally responsible for damage and injuries that occur while you are driving.
What Happens if Your Omission Leads to an Accident With Fatalities?
The following is a real-life example.
John Phillips, a 52-year-old trucker, hit and fatally wounded two women in 2011. Witnesses report he’d been speeding up, slowing down erratically, and crossing the median. Dan Jenkins, the husband of one of the deceased, was following in a separate car when he saw the truck cross the yellow line and hit the mother of his two-year-old child.
Lawyers immediately combed through his medical reports and files and had Phillips tested for drugs. They discovered he’d been on methamphetamines and fell asleep behind the wheel. He did not remember the accident.
The judge said, “Mr. Phillips, by his decisions, weaponized a commercial vehicle,” said the judge.
After a four-year legal battle, Phillips was sentenced to life in jail plus an additional 15 years for DUI manslaughter.
Take the High Road
The medical exam isn’t arbitrary. The DOT analyzes accident reports and their causes. The medical questions you answer come from that data and are aimed at uncovering the very conditions that cause accidents on the road. A CDL job is not worth your life. Nor is it worth the lives of innocent bystanders.
Fortunately, many conditions can be managed through medicine and lifestyle. Talk to your doctor about your health history and see if there are ways to make you eligible for a DOT medical card. You may need a letter from your specialist, proof of medication, or proof of adaptive devices (like a hearing aid,) but there are exceptions for many conditions when you can prove your condition is adequately controlled.