What is the DOT Physical?
You may be on your way to getting your CDL, but you have to make sure you’re qualified. That means passing your DOT (Department of Transportation) physical examination. As much as we all hate going to the doctor, this part is inevitable.
The DOT physical includes all the following tests: hearing, vision, blood pressure, urinalysis, and a physical exam. We’ll explain each one in detail later.
To get your CDL, you need a Medical Examination Report (for Commercial Driver Fitness Determination). A certified examiner completes this report and then issues your Medical Examiner’s Certificate if you are physically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
You can also get your certificate in the form of a DOT medical card, which is easier to carry around.
This certification is usually valid for 2 years. After 2 years, you need to renew. Some conditions, like high blood pressure, require you to renew your certificate before the 2 year period.
Where Can I Get My DOT Medical Card?
The DOT physical must be conducted by a certified medical examiner listed on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) National Registry.
You can click on their website HERE for a list of certified examiners.
One popular testing center is Concentra, but you have many options to select from.
Some CVS pharmacies even have certified personnel to conduct your exam, but they usually don’t accept insurance and require payment upfront.
MDSave lists the national average cost of the DOT physical exam as $243, though prices may vary.
The DOT Physical Broken Down
Overall, the DOT physical isn’t a terribly difficult trial to pass.
The medical exam isn’t a military physical fitness test, but there are certain medical conditions that simply cannot be overlooked and will prevent you from getting your medical certificate.
Don’t be discouraged though, as many conditions can be granted a waiver, even a missing limb!
Here’s a detailed list of what the exam covers, what condition(s) can disqualify someone, and what exceptions/waivers are available:
- Driver’s Information and Health History:
These first two sections are filled out by the driver. You just need to know your own personal information and social security number.
Next, complete the health history as honestly as you can, especially if you have serious medical conditions such as a history of seizures, fainting spells, or even a history of drug or substance abuse.
According to the Medical Examination Report, you need to have:
- At least 20/40 vision acuity in each eye with or without correction
- At least 70 degrees peripheral vision in each eye
- The ability to perceive the colors of traffic signals, showing the standard red, green, and yellow.
You are allowed to wear your glasses or contacts! The only catch is that they must be used for either far or near-sighted correction. They can’t be used for both.
Unfortunately, if you have monopsia, or monocular vision, you aren’t qualified to drive. This type of vision means that you use each eye separately.
Monopsia limits depth perception, which is critical to driving a truck safely.
This part of the DOT physical is pretty simple: you must be able to perceive a forced whisper from at least five feet away in each ear. Also, the average hearing loss in your better ear must be less than or equal to 40 dB.
If you use a hearing aid to pass the hearing test, then you must always use it while driving. Also, you must always carry an alternate power source for the hearing aid with you.
- Blood Pressure/ Pulse Rate:
Abnormal blood pressure doesn’t disqualify you from getting your Medical Examiner’s Certificate. But high blood pressure does change how often you have to get recertified to to drive.
If you have a less than or equal to 140/90 blood pressure reading, you only have to renew every 2 years. For blood pressure between 140-159/90-99, your certificate gets a 1 year expiration. If 160-179/100-109, you may receive a one-time certificate for 3 months. See the Medical Examination Report (form 649-F) for more specific information.
Next up for the DOT physical exam is the urinalysis. Your sample is tested for protein, blood, and sugar.
This test detects some common diseases, like diabetes, and could disqualify you from becoming a truck driver.
- Physical Examination:
You’re almost done! All that’s left to do is for the medical examiner to look you over.
The first thing your examiner looks at is your general appearance. Your examiner looks to see if you are obese, have tremors, or show signs of alcoholism or drug abuse.
Here’s everything that’s checked for in your DOT physical exam:
- Eyes – Your examiner checks your eyes and pupils. The examiner will ask about retinopathy, cataracts, aphakia, glaucoma, macular degeneration, or other eye problems. They will refer you to a specialist if needed.
- Ears – Checks for damage, occlusion, and perforated eardrums.
- Mouth and throat – Checks for anything that can interfere with breathing or swallowing.
- Heart – Tests for heart conditions, such as murmurs, extra sounds, an enlarged heart, pacemaker, or implantable defibrillator.
- Chest and Lungs – Tests for abnormal chest expansion, abnormal respiratory rate, abnormal breathing sounds such as wheezing or alveolar rales (i.e. “crackles”), and cyanosis. This doesn’t include a breast exam. You may need further testing such as an X-ray or pulmonary test.
- Abdomen and Viscera – Examines your internal organs for an enlarged liver, enlarged spleen, masses, bruits, hernia, and significant wall muscle weaknesses.
- Vascular System – Checks for an abnormal pulse, cartoid or arterial bruits (or as we say in English… “weird murmur sounds”), and varicose veins.
- Genito-Urinary System – Checks for hernias, and next are your extremities.
- Limbs and Extremities – The examiner checks for any loss or impairment of limbs, any perceptible limp, deformities, abnormal weaknesses or paralyses, insufficient grasp to grip a steering wheel, and insufficient mobility and strength to operate the pedals properly.
- Back – Checks your spine for previous surgeries, deformities, limitation of motion, or tenderness.
- Neurological System – Evaluated for impaired equilibrium, coordination, or speech pattern as well as asymmetric reflexes, sensory or positional abnormalities and ataxia (loss of full control of body movement).
If you’re healthy and are lucky enough to not have any disqualifying disease, chances are you have met all requirements. Congratulations!
NOTE: There are plenty of exceptions/waivers to certain medical conditions, even diabetes.
According to the Medical Examination Report regarding diabetes, “If the condition can be controlled by the use of oral medication and diet, then an individual may be qualified under the present rule”. See the Medical Examination Report for full details on your specific illness or disease.
Is There a Drug test for the DOT Physical?
The DOT physical doesn’t include a drug test, but illegal drug use does disqualify you from driving. That sounds funny, so how does it work?
All trucking companies require you to take a drug test in addition to your DOT physical exam, a requirement of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The FMCSA tests for five classes of drugs: marijuana, cocaine, opiates (opium and codeine derivatives), amphetamines and methamphetamines, and Phencyclidine (PCP).
While the DOT physical may not catch you, the FMCSA still can. So truck drivers can’t use these drugs and drive.
If a driver fails the FMCSA test, they cannot drive Commercial Motor Vehicles until going through the return-to-duty process. This test is done under the supervision of an FMCSA professional and can be prescribed for a minimum of 6 directly observed tests in 12 months, but can be extended an additional four years
Trucking companies can also perform additional drug tests if they want. That means companies can independently test you for more than just those five classes of drugs.
As of 2016, most drug tests began testing by taking a hair follicle. This became favored over urine testing because drug substances remain in hair follicles longer than in urine. Generally, the test covers a period of 90 days, though this varies with the growth rate of your hair.
While all of these tests seem like a burden, it’s important to keep in mind that they are performed for the safety of the road. Driving a big, dangerous truck is a great responsibility.
Once you are cleared with your DOT physical, then it’s time to go to CDL training… and that means figuring out how to pay for it.