The most crucial element of commercial driving is the health and safety of the driver. To keep everyone safe while on the road, the Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires all commercial drivers to complete a DOT physical every 24 months. It’s a universal fitness test that determines whether you’re fit to perform your job.
The whole process is quick but critically important. Let’s talk about DOT physical exams, what it involves, and how you can prepare for yours.
What is a DOT physical?
A DOT physical is a health examination all commercial motor vehicle drivers must pass to prove they fit the job. A commercial driver’s license is invalid without a current certificate from an approved DOT medical examiner. After a DOT physical, you’ll get a medical certificate and a wallet-sized laminated CDL card. These will be valid for 24 months. You’re responsible for updating your DOT medical card and commercial driver’s license.
What does a DOT physical cover?
All CDL physicals are the same health examination standardized by the DOT. It means you’ll know what to expect every time you take the test. It also means that a certificate from any DOT-approved medical examiner is valid in all 50 states in the US.
The DOT physical includes a physical examination, a vision and hearing test, a blood pressure check, and urine testing. The physical exam includes assessments for respiratory function, vascular health, and musculoskeletal and neurological conditions.
You aren’t required to be the picture of perfect health to pass your DOT physical. The medical examiner aims to look for signs that may hinder you from doing your job safely. If, for example, you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure, it doesn’t automatically mean that you fail the physical exam. Your medical condition only becomes a problem if you don’t get treatment, maintenance, or therapy for it.
A DOT physical exam requires urine specimens to check for sugar and protein levels, among others. The health exam doesn’t include drug testing except when your employer requires one. A medical examiner only performs alcohol testing post-accident unless your employer requires it.
What do you bring to a DOT physical?
The things you need to bring for your DOT physical depend on your health status. CDL drivers who need to take a DOT physical must list their current medications. It would help to include the dosage and the name of the medical doctor who prescribed them.
For any chronic medical conditions you may have, you should provide anything that’ll help prove that you’re fit to perform your job. Here are things you may need to bring to a DOT physical if you have certain health conditions.
- You’re required to wear prescription eyeglasses or contacts during the DOT physical if you have vision problems.
- Wear your hearing aids to the physical and bring a copy of a recent hearing test result.
- Commercial drivers with diabetes must prove that they have their blood sugar under control and it won’t interfere with their job. Bring your most recent Hemoglobin A1C or HbA1C test results. It would also help to bring your current diabetes medications and blood sugar logs.
- A DOT physical doesn’t include a sleep test, but it’s important to tell your DOT doctor if you have sleep apnea or if you use a CPAP machine. If so, bring your sleep log from your CPAP machine.
- If you have heart issues, you should bring a letter from your heart specialist that explains your medical history and results from your recent stress test or Echocardiogram.
- You may still get a DOT medical certificate if you’ve lost the use of an arm, leg, foot, or hand. Bring a note from your physician that explains the condition or injury and clears you of any work-related restrictions. They may require a Skilled Performance Examination to pass the DOT physical. Your medical examiner will talk you through that on the day of the exam.
Having medical conditions don’t immediately disqualify you from passing your DOT physical. Remember, your medical examiner will try to work with you, but only if you bring the proper documentation to prove you can do the job. If you do your part to provide the needed information, your DOT physical should go smoothly.
We recommend keeping your medical documentation in a safe place that you won’t easily forget. Remember, you’ll need to access these files every two years at a minimum.
What if you fail your DOT physical?
Only a medical examiner can determine if you pass a DOT physical or not. The medical examiner’s office cannot coach or screen you on whether you can pass or fail the test. The safety of the driver and other people on the road is too important to compromise, so medical examiners must strictly comply and be consistent with all the DOT physical requirements.
However, if you fail your DOT physical, it’s still possible to receive your certification even if you succeed in the initial DOT physical. Here are things you can do if you don’t pass your DOT exam:
Get a short-term medical certification
As of June 2018, medical examiners can issue a short-term medical certification to commercial drivers who fail to meet the requirements for a DOT medical certificate. The certification is issued while monitoring and managing a health condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
The length of the short-term certificate is up to the medical examiner but will generally be far less than 24 months. Many times, it may just be for a few months to give you time to control symptoms.
Retake the DOT physical
If you think you failed the DOT physical because of an unfair analysis of your health status, you can retake the DOT physical at a different healthcare facility. Make sure to schedule the physical with an authorized medical examiner and to provide all documents required by the FMCSA.
Second opinions are allowed, but you can’t keep retaking the exam until you find a medical examiner who’ll pass you. You should inform the new examiner that you’re looking to retake because you didn’t pass the initial DOT physical.
Apply for driver exemption programs
Commercial drivers may apply for exemptions if they don’t meet the seizure, vision, and hearing standards in acquiring a non-restricted medical certificate. The application must include medical exams, employment history, driving experience, and motor vehicle records. The FMCSA will review the information and provide a final decision within 180 days of receiving a completed application.
Note: All exemption programs are for drivers who intend to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce.
Paying for a DOT physical
Generally, insurance doesn’t cover DOT exams, so you may have to pay for them yourself. If your employer requires you to undergo a DOT medical exam, they may pay for the DOT physical cost. Make sure to get your employer’s approval before scheduling a CDL physical.
Preparation is key
If you’re a commercial driver, you should know how important it is to ensure that you’re healthy and well enough to operate a commercial vehicle. A DOT physical doesn’t intend to make CDLs more difficult for you. It aims to promote your and the public’s safety on the road.
Preparing for the physical is necessary to make the entire experience more pleasant and to help you acquire good results. Make sure to follow the tips mentioned above, get enough sleep, stay hydrated, and wear comfortable clothing on the day of your exam.
More importantly, stay calm and be honest with your medical examiner. Following these preparation tips will help you get your medical certificate and, ultimately, your commercial driver’s license as soon as possible.