If you’re a driver of a commercial vehicle or aspire to be one, then you’ve likely heard of a DOT physical. But what is a DOT physical exactly? It’s an exam commercial vehicle drivers (CMV) must undergo to ensure their health is strong enough to meet the job demands.

If a CMV driver fails a DOT physical and operates a commercial vehicle, it can increase the chances of things going wrong behind the wheel. For example, a driver could fall asleep, throw a blood clot from prolonged sitting, or lose consciousness from dangerously high blood pressure.

Undiagnosed illnesses can lead to an accident, which could result in injury or death. These accidents are preventable by requiring every CMV operator to undergo one simple physical every two years (or more often if they have an underlying health condition).

This article will cover what a DOT physical is, the importance of getting one, and what the exam entails.

What Is a DOT Physical?

A Department of Transportation (DOT) physical is a medical exam that drivers of commercial vehicles must undergo. It ensures that drivers of commercial motor vehicles can meet the requirements of the job.

A DOT physical evaluates a driver’s vision, blood pressure, and complete medical history. You must undergo a DOT physical if you:

  •     Operate a CMV with a gross combination weight rating of over 10,000 pounds
  •     Operate a CMV that can accommodate up to 15 people
  •     Receive payment for operating a CMV that can carry more than eight people
  •     Transport hazardous materials that require your CMV to display a hazmat placard

Why is DOT Physical Required?

A successful DOT exam proves that a professional bus or truck driver is physically, mentally, and emotionally fit to operate a commercial vehicle safely. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires DOT physicals to ensure the safety of the driver and the general public.

When commercial vehicle drivers undergo a DOT physical, it’s to ensure they can handle the health risks associated with sitting for long periods. A DOT physical also helps ensure that drivers can deal with the intense schedule, physical demands, and emotional stress of operating commercial vehicles.

Once a driver passes a DOT physical, they’ll get a medical certificate (card) that permits them to drive a commercial vehicle. The certificate is valid for 24 months. Passing a DOT physical means that the driver must return for another DOT physical to operate a motor vehicle. However, this assumes that a driver doesn’t have a medical or mental condition that requires more frequent testing.

For example, if you have a condition like high blood pressure, you may need to have DOT physicals every three months. And to continue operating a commercial vehicle safely, you must undergo medical treatment to correct or manage the issue.

What does the DOT Physical include?

A physician will do a full workup on the driver to help ensure a commercial motor vehicle driver can handle the job’s demands. Ensuring the driver’s ability to work involves performing a wide range of tests.

Below are the different parts of a DOT physical exam.

Detailed Medical History Review

The physician who performs your DOT physical will ask about your medical history. They may ask:

  •     If you’ve had any previous surgeries
  •     If you’re taking any medications, including prescription and OTC medicines
  •     If you’ve been previously diagnosed with any health problems
  •     If you use tobacco, alcohol, or illegal substances
  •     If you’re currently experiencing any symptoms of a potential medical condition

Gathering a medical history will help the physician gain information about your health situation and determine potential risks that need addressing. Be sure to answer all questions honestly and thoroughly. Lying about your medical history can result in a civil penalty and invalidate the exam and certificate.

Vision Test

During a DOT physical, a medical professional will test your vision. To pass the vision portion of the exam, you must have at least 20/40 vision for both eyes, with or without corrective lenses.

If you have monocular vision—a condition in which you have functional sight in one eye—this could potentially disqualify you. Monovision correction, in which you need both near and far acuity improvement, could also disqualify you.

However, if you pass all other aspects of the DOT physical, you may get a Federal Vision Exemption. But if you’re legally blind in one eye, getting a Federal Vision Exemption can be difficult, so consider driving in-state only.

For general vision correction, you can wear prescription glasses or contact lenses for the vision portion of the DOT medical exam. However, this is only permitted if you routinely wear them or are used to wearing them.

Furthermore, if you’ve had laser surgery, it won’t disqualify you from passing the DOT physical as long as you meet the vision requirements.

Hearing Test

To pass the hearing test, you must be able to hear a “forced whisper” from less than five feet away, without or without a hearing aid.

The examiner will whisper words or random numbers and then record how well you hear them. If you fail, you’ll likely undergo further testing, which might involve an audiometric test.

If you pass the hearing test but require the use of a hearing aid, you must operate it at all times when driving a CMV. You must also carry a spare power source for the hearing aid(s).

Urinalysis Test

A urinalysis test is necessary for a DOT physical. Your doctor will test your urine for proteins, blood, and sugar levels to rule out possible underlying health conditions.

The physician might also use the urinalysis for drug testing purposes. While a drug test isn’t typically part of a DOT exam, your potential employer may require one anyway.

Drug testing might include checking for levels of five classes of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines and methamphetamines, and phencyclidine (PCP).

Blood Pressure/Pulse Rate

During a DOT physical examination, another test you must undergo will check for your blood pressure and pulse rate.

Blood pressure higher than that could indicate hypertension (high blood pressure). To pass this portion of the exam, your blood pressure must be below 140/90 at the time of the physical. The attending physician may recommend treatment options, such as blood pressure medication, and may instruct you to test again at a later time for a re-check.

Physical Examination

In addition to specific health indicators, your medical examiner will perform a general physical examination. This often includes looking at your:

  •     The general appearance of your body (i.e., height, weight, etc.)
  •     Skin
  •     Eyes
  •     Ears
  •     Mouth and throat
  •     Lungs and chest
  •     Heart
  •     Abdomen
  •     Back and spine
  •     Genital and urinary system
  •     Vascular system (i.e., arteries, veins, lymphatic system)
  •     Gait (i.e., how you walk)
  •     Extremities
  •     Skeletal
  •     Neurological

Other Tests

If you’ve reported symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, you may also need a sleep apnea test. Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder that causes you to breathe abnormally while you sleep. If you suffer from this illness and attempt to operate a CMV, it can be hazardous not only for you but for other drivers and pedestrians.

What Should I Bring to My DOT Physical?

Before your DOT examinations, be sure to prepare any pertinent documents that provide information about your medical history as well as the medications you may be taking. For example, these documents might include:

  •     Blood sugar readings, if you’re diabetic
  •     Primary care physician and/or specialist contact information
  •     A letter from a physician that details your condition and/or states your ability to drive without restrictions despite your ailment
  •     A compliance report if you use a CPAP machine
  •     Your healthcare provider’s recent office visit notes, lab results, and studies if you have a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, sleep apnea, or history of blood clots
  •     List of all medications

You should also bring contacts or prescription glasses if you use them to correct your vision. You’ll likely have to wear them during your vision exam, especially if you’ll need them for operating a CMV. This is also true for hearing aids.

In addition to medical information and corrective devices, you should also bring a valid form of identification (i.e., driver’s license, passport, etc.).

Find a Qualified Physician

Impaired performance because of fatigue, drowsiness, and other symptoms can increase the risk of a motor vehicle accident. Couple these risks with constantly changing weather and road conditions, and you could be facing a severe safety hazard when driving a CMV.

This is why it is critically important to ensure optimal health so that you can safely and legally perform the operations of the job.

Our skilled physicians at Poipu Mobile MD Clinic offer comprehensive employment physicals, including DOT physicals. Book an appointment with us today.