Navigating Physical Exams For Commercial Drivers With Depression
| |

Navigating Physical Exams For Commercial Drivers With Depression

Without commercial drivers like you, grocery stores would be bare, fast food chains wouldn’t have ingredients to supersize meals, and gas stations wouldn’t have fuel to get everyone to their destinations. You know your career is vital for everyone’s lives, but it shouldn’t jeopardize your mental health.

You face several challenges in your job: long hours alone, extended time away from family and friends, irregular or broken sleep, and work-related pressures. You must meet delivery deadlines while managing challenging driving conditions and following your workplace’s and the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) safety regulations. All of these factors can make you more susceptible to depression and other mental health issues.

According to a questionnaire published in 2012, 26% of truckers reported symptoms of depression. Comparatively, only 9.2% of the general population experienced a major depressive episode in 2020. Because depression is prevalent in your career field and can impact your commercial driver’s license, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms.

What Is Depression?

Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and unworthiness categorize major depression. You can feel fatigued and struggle to focus on tasks or make decisions. You may have changes in your appetite or weight without trying. Depending on the severity of your depression, you can have thoughts of passively dying or actively ending your life.

To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), you must have these symptoms for at least 14 consecutive days. Once you reach this point, the symptoms don’t typically resolve on their own and can start to impact your daily life. If you are diagnosed with MDD, there are some things you need to know regarding your DOT physical exam:

DOT Medical Examiners Must Verify You Are Safe To Drive

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) evaluated the connection between psychiatric disorders and driver safety. The study couldn’t rule out mood disorders as a safety risk, so medical examiners must review your medical history to ensure your future driving safety.

During your DOT physical, an experienced and thorough medical examiner will review your history regarding mood disorders such as depression and ask you questions about medications, substance use, and lifestyle. They will also assess your appearance and behavior throughout your office visit.

If you have a history of depression, regardless of whether you take any medications, you should bring written documentation from your treating provider stating that your current treatment is adequate and effective. The documentation should also state that you are safe and stable to perform the duties of a commercial driver. This will help to avoid delays in receiving your DOT medical card.

Specific Treatments Can Keep You From Driving Commercially

Any medications in the benzodiazepine drug class can impair your driving and increase your crash risk. More commonly prescribed for anxiety, your doctor may prescribe them if you have some panic attack features with your depression, or as a sleep aid. You must wait to operate heavy machinery until the drug clears your system. The medical examiner must make a qualification determination on a case-by-case basis and may elect to disqualify you from driving. Speak to your doctor about alternative medications if needed.

Another treatment for severe MDD is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This treatment can cause short-term disorientation or confusion. You can suffer short-term, temporary, or permanent memory loss. Because of this, the FMCSA has a minimum waiting period of six months following any ECT treatment before you can drive commercially.

Reduce Your Risk of Depression On The Road

Stay connected with loved ones while driving. Schedule daily phone calls or video chats with friends and family on the road. Ensure you are taking breaks and getting some exercise. Even low-intensity activities like walking can boost your endorphins, your body’s natural protection against mood problems like depression. Try and time your breaks or exercise to get some sunshine. Being outside in the sun can boost your overall mood.

Finally, reach out for help when noticing a downward mood trend. This is vital if you already have a history of depression; ignoring your symptoms can lead to a more serious problem impacting your driving clearance. Early intervention can prevent a minor speed bump from becoming a roadblock and keep you on the road.


Commercial drivers face mental health challenges due to isolation, sleep irregularities, and strict safety standards. Depression, characterized by sadness, hopelessness, and low self-worth, can impact daily activities and driving safety. DOT medical examiners must verify a driver’s psychiatric history, medication impacts, and lifestyle factors. Benzodiazepines and ECT treatments can impair driving and increase crash risks. DOT examiners have minimum waiting periods for specific diagnoses, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and addressing early signs of depression is crucial for maintaining eligibility for commercial driving.


Navigating Physical Exams For Commercial Drivers With Depression