If you are a professional truck or bus driver, then you’re familiar with Department of Transportation (DOT) physicals. They can be nerve-wracking if you are unprepared or don’t know what to expect. Here are some common questions drivers have and the answers you might be looking for:
Do You Need A Physical?
If you are a commercial driver in a safety-sensitive career, where your job can impact your own safety and the general public’s safety, you may need a DOT physical. Typically, you will be required to get a physical if your job consists of any of the following:
- You transport hazardous materials that require a placard on your vehicle.
- You earn money operating a vehicle carrying more than eight people, nine including you.
- You use vehicles designed to carry greater than 15 people.
- You drive on the interstate, and the gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight are greater than 10,000 pounds.
Who Can Perform Your Physical?
Only medical professionals certified by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) can conduct your exam and issue a certificate. They maintain a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. The list includes doctors of chiropractic or osteopathy, advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, and regular medical doctors. Our searchable database of certified providers can help connect you with a medical examiner near you.
Do You Need To Prepare For Your Physical?
When you arrive for your physical, you will need to fill out the driver’s portion of a medical examination report form. You will need to indicate any previous or ongoing health conditions. You must be honest on this form, or the DOT can revoke your certificate. The examiner will be thorough and will quickly find most things you have tried to omit.
You will need to bring to your appointment:
- Your medical records – include your doctors’ names, contact information, and addresses.
- A list of all of your medications with dosages, including over-the-counter and homeopathic medicines, and why you take them. You will need a letter from your doctor and medical records if any cause sleepiness, are a controlled substance, or are blood thinners, like Coumadin.
- Contacts, glasses, or hearing aids if you use them.
- Any recent heart test results, if you’ve undergone them, and a letter from your cardiologist stating you’re safe to drive if you’ve had previous heart issues.
- A letter from your doctor with any work restrictions if you’ve lost permanent use of your limbs.
- A letter from your neurologist if you have an aneurysm or seizure disorder or a history of a brain bleed, tumor, or stroke.
- If you have sleep apnea, your CPAP machine records showing proper use for 90 or more days.
- If you have diabetes, a history of your blood glucose readings and your most recent Hgb A1C results.
Let’s Get Physical
Your doctor will ask on the pre-screening forms or in person if you’ve ever had surgery, tobacco, alcohol, or illegal substance use. They will want to know if you’ve failed a drug test, been dependent on a substance, and any current health symptoms you’re experiencing.
The doctor will check your vitals, including height, weight, and blood pressure, which must be below 140/90. They will thoroughly assess your vision, hearing, skin, abdomen, back and spine, and cardiovascular, pulmonary, and gastrointestinal systems. They will check your reflexes and assess your nervous system. They will look at the range of motion of your extremities and joints and your gait, so they may have you do some walking and balance exercises.
The doctor will have you provide a urine sample. They will check for protein, blood, and sugar in your urine. If anything abnormal is present, they will send you for additional tests or have you follow-up with your primary care provider to check for other medical problems. Typically, the DOT physical doesn’t require a sample for a drug test, but your employer may require the DOT drug test.
If you snore heavily, gasp for breath during sleep, wake with a sore throat or dry mouth, experience frequent headaches in the morning, or have daytime sleepiness, you may need a sleep apnea test.
What Can Exclude You From Obtaining A DOT Card?
Frequently, the examiner’s judgment will decide the safety of your condition, but some automatic disqualifications and problems require additional tests. You may be able to get an exemption or waiver from the FMCSA for your medical condition. If you do not pass because of a condition that can be fixed or you can control, you can reapply for certification. This list can get you disqualified:
- Epilepsy or other seizure disorders
- Inner ear disorders causing dizziness, like Meniere’s disease.
- Uncorrectable vision. You must have 20/40 vision with or without glasses and a field of vision of 70 degrees in each eye. If this cannot be met in both eyes, you will need to have a vision specialist complete the Vision Evaluation Report before your appointment. You must also be able to differentiate between amber, red, and green.
- If you have hearing loss and are completely deaf, you cannot pass but may qualify for the federal hearing exemption. If you are able to pass the tests with a hearing aid, you must wear them at all times while driving.
- Uncontrolled heart conditions, uncontrolled diabetes, and blood pressure above 180/110.
- Use of oxygen therapy, marijuana, even if prescribed, or use of illegal substances.
- Some respiratory conditions.
- Untreated or unrepaired hernias, although smaller hernias do not need to be treated.
- Untreated sleep apnea.
If you have passed your physical and have your medical certificate, it’s valid for up to two years. However, if your physical uncovers anything that concerns your medical examiner, you may be given a temporary certificate. This type of certificate will allow you to continue driving for one or three months while you address the medical concerns uncovered at your physical with your medical provider. You may also be limited to a one-year certification.
If you encounter a worsening condition that puts your driving at risk, it’s your responsibility to stop driving, get treated, and retake your DOT physical to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. Your physical isn’t a roadblock to driving but another step in preventing avoidable crashes, injuries, and fatalities. Do your part to ensure everyone gets to their destination safely.