Commercial Driver’s License Physical and Medical Requirements
The CDL medical requirements imposed by state motor vehicle departments (DMV) in the United States are generally stricter than the requirements for a standard license due to the nature of the profession. Note that the CDL physical and medical requirements for a commercial driver’s license are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
Due to the strict DOT physical requirements, commercial operators are generally required to pass the CDL physical exam on a regular basis. For example, in order to maintain the validity of commercial licenses in Vermont, drivers will be required to pass the DOT physical exam on a two-year basis, as mandated by federal regulations. Note that drivers who fail to provide accurate information about their health history during their CDL medical exam may even be subjected to certain civil penalties for making false statements.
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Learn more about the process of meeting these medical requirements by reading the section outlined below:
- Obtaining a CDL medical examiner’s certificate
- Self-certifying for a commercial driving category
- FMCSA driver exemption programs
Obtaining a CDL Medical Examiner’s Certificate
Passing the CDL medical exam is a mandatory step for commercial license applicants in the United States, as drivers must prove they are physically and mentally fit to operate a commercial vehicle. If you successfully meet the CDL physical exam requirements, you will receive a medical examiner’s (ME) certificate of a limited validity, which must be maintained on your driving record on a regular basis. The CDL physical test must be conducted by a qualified medical examiner listed on the FMCSA National Registry. DOT physical exams are generally administered by approved doctors of medicine, physician assistants, doctors of chiropractic, advanced practice nurses and doctors of osteopathy.
Even if the CDL physical test is typically administered on a 24-month basis, certain drivers may still be required to retake the exam on a more frequent basis if they have a condition that must be monitored regularly. Note that, if you fail to pass the CDL physical exam on time, you will be prohibited from operating a commercial vehicle until you recertify. For instance, operators who fail to maintain the validity of their ME certificates with the Connecticut DMV, will have their commercial licenses downgraded to Class D credentials, which only allow them to drive regular passenger vehicle.
Self-Certifying for a Commercial Driving Category
After passing the DOT physical exam and obtaining the ME authorizing document, commercial drivers must provide a copy of the certificate to their local DMV office and self-certify for one of four possible commercial driving categories. The following list outlines the different types of commercial operations for which you can self-certify with your CDL medical card:
- Intrastate excepted – For commercial drivers who are not required to meet the state medical requirements and will operate their vehicles within state borders.
- Intrastate non-excepted – For commercial operators who must meet the CDL medical exam requirements for their state and will drive their vehicles within their state of licensure only.
- Interstate excepted – For commercial motorists who do not have to meet the federal DOT physical exam requirements and will operate their vehicles from one state to another state or country.
- Interstate non-excepted – For commercial drivers who must meet the CDL medical exam requirements and will drive a commercial vehicle that crosses state borders into another state or country.
Note: If you are found operating your commercial vehicle in a category other than the one in which you self-certified, you will be subjected to a license suspension or revocation.
FMCSA Driver Exemption Programs
Drivers who are unable to meet the full CDL physical exam requirements due to a medical condition may still be able to obtain a commercial license by applying for an exemption document. For instance, drivers who do not meet the diabetes, hearing, seizure and/or vision standards of their CDL medical exam can submit a formal request for a waiver with the FMCSA federal exemption programs. Commercial drivers applying for these exceptions may be required to include copies of their medical exams, employment history and driver’s records. Note that these exemption programs are only available to drivers who fail their DOT physical requirements for interstate commercial operations. The FMCSA is not authorized to grant waivers to drivers who are only operating within their states.
Even commercial motorists who fail their CDL physical tests as a result of impaired or missing limbs, such as hands, fingers, arms, feet or legs may be able to qualify for a commercial driving license. The FMCSA Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) program was implemented to offer an opportunity to drivers fitted with a prosthetic device to successfully obtain a CDL credential. For example, even if you do not meet the DOT physical standards due to a physical impairment, you can enroll in the SPE program for a chance to demonstrate your ability to safely operate a commercial vehicle. If you pass the skills test, you will earn eligibility for a SPE certificate. Note that this program is also limited to drivers engaged in interstate commerce.
Intrastate drivers who fail to meet the full CDL medical exam requirements may also be able to obtain a waiver to operate their commercial vehicles within their states. Commercial operators in Maryland, for instance, can contact a nearby DMV office of the state Motor Vehicle Administration to inquire about the procedure of obtaining an intrastate waiver.