DOT Physical Exam
Risks, Costs, Expectations & Why to Get One

DOT Physical May Also be Known as:

  • DOT exam
  • DOT test
  • Driver’s physical
  • DMV physical



What is a DOT Exam?

Do you get paid to operate a motor vehicle? If so, there is a good chance you are required to periodically receive a DOT physical, or DOT exam. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires these exams in order for professionals (particularly truck and bus drivers) to obtain or maintain a commercial driving license and make sure that nothing will negatively impact their driving performance.

In order to comply with federal law, a qualified examiner – a doctor, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner – must complete your DOT physical. These providers can be easily found when you book an urgent care appointment using Solv.

A typical physical begins by reviewing your medical history and asking you to list the medications you take on a regular basis. During your physical, your examiner will also:

  • Check your blood pressure, as well as your pulse
  • Perform a vision test, since drivers are required to have at least 20/40 acuity in each eye
  • Examine your ears and, in particular, your ability to perceive a “forced whisper” from at least 5 feet away
  • Check for spine deformities
  • Look at your mouth and throat for problems breathing or swallowing
  • Perform a neurological exam to make sure your coordination and reflexes are not impaired
  • Listen to your heart and lungs for murmurs and impaired respiratory functions
  • Press on your abdomen to check for abnormalities
  • Perform a hernia check
  • Conduct urinalysis for indications of underlying medical conditions

If you’ve been given the green light during your medical exam, your examiner will then issue you a medical certificate, which, if you do not require periodic medical monitoring, will be valid for two years. In some cases, the examiner may issue a certificate that lasts for only three months, six months, or a year. If you do not pass the exam, your examiner will not be able to issue you a certificate.

5 Reasons You Would Need a DOT Physical

1. Vision Testing

Under Department of Transportation (DOT) regulation, good vision is required to drive and operate a commercial vehicle. The DOT physical requires drivers to have 20/40 vision with or without the use of corrective lenses.[1] This means you must be able to see at least 20/40 with both eyes, or at least 20/40 with either the right eye or left eye. Those with monovision may be disqualified from getting a DOT medical card.

2. Drug Testing

Drug testing may be performed to ensure drivers do not use habit-forming substances that compromise the safety of themselves and others while operating commercial vehicles. Drug testing may be required for those who work for certain DOT departments with safety-sensitive positions, including the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, and Federal Railroad Administration.[2] DOT-regulated drug tests are required to use urine samples only.

DOT drug tests screen for cocaine, amphetamines, opioids, THC, marijuana, and PCP. Those who test positive for these drugs may be interviewed to determine whether an alternative medical explanation can be provided for substances found in the urinalysis.

3. Hearing Testing

Good hearing is required to drive and operate a commercial vehicle under the DOT. The DOT physical requires you to be able to hear a forced whisper in one ear within a distance of five feet without the use of a hearing aid.[3] However, you can still pass the DOT physical if you use a hearing aid in the other ear.

4. Brain and Neurological Screening

A DOT physical includes brain and neurological screening to identify brain injuries and neurological disorders that cause epilepsy or seizures. People diagnosed with epilepsy or who have a history of seizures will be disqualified from receiving a DOT medical card, even if seizures can be controlled.[4] This policy is in place to ensure the safety of drivers, passengers, and others should a driver experience a seizure while operating a vehicle.

5. Cardiovascular Screening

Good heart health is required to pass the DOT physical. Evidence suggests that drivers of commercial vehicles are more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease and events that put themselves and others at risk for injury and death.[5] Blood pressure readings may be taken to assess the risk for heart attack or heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of medical illness and sudden death in drivers who operate commercial motor vehicles.[6]

Drivers with heart-related issues are required to bring a letter from their cardiologist to the DOT physical that outlines their medical history and list of heart medications. Those who have a history of serious heart problems or who use medical devices like defibrillators and pacemakers may be disqualified from receiving a DOT medical card.[7]

Understanding a DOT Physical

A DOT physical is designed to assess and test the general health of people who want to drive and operate certain types of commercial vehicles. The DOT test examines your physical, mental, and emotional health to ensure you can safely operate commercial vehicles without putting yourself and others at risk.[8] Each state has its own specific regulations for the DOT physical.

The DOT physical is required for those who want to operate a motor vehicle designed to carry more than 15 people or who are paid to operate a motor vehicle that carries more than eight people. Those who want to transport hazardous materials or operate a motor vehicle with a gross weight of over 10,000 pounds are also required to undergo a DOT physical.

Those who complete and meet the requirements of a DOT physical receive a DOT medical card or certificate valid for up to 24 months.[9]

Risks of a DOT Physical

A DOT physical is noninvasive and poses no serious health or medical risks. The doctor performing the exam might ask questions about your personal health that make you uncomfortable, such as about your history of mental illness or drug use. You might be asked to provide a urine sample and undergo a hernia test that requires the doctor to place their hands on your pelvis.[10]

What to Expect With a DOT Physical

During your appointment for a DOT physical, the examiner assesses your physical and mental health to ensure no medical conditions will interfere with your ability to drive and operate a vehicle safely. The doctor performs a series of tests to check your blood pressure, vision, hearing, digestive, and mental health. You might also undergo urinalysis for diabetes and drug testing.

A DOT physical can take between 30 minutes and one hour to complete. Drivers who have existing medical conditions are urged to bring the appropriate related documents and items with them to the appointment.

Drivers are required to disclose all known health conditions with their doctors at the time of the DOT exam. Failing to disclose certain health conditions can result in disqualification for a DOT medical card and legal fines, in some cases.

Where can you get a DOT Exam?

While you can get the exam at your primary care doctor’s office, based on your schedule, it might be more convenient to stop by your local urgent care clinic. These facilities have extended hours, so you get your physical when it is best for you.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About a DOT Physical

  • How often do I need a DOT physical?
  • What happens if I fail the DOT physical?
  • Can any of my medical conditions be waived to pass the DOT physical?
  • What medical conditions disqualify me from passing the DOT physical?
  • Will my DOT medical card be valid to use in other states?
  • Will drug testing be included in my DOT physical?

Sources

  1. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Examining FMCSA Vision Standard for CMV Drivers and Waiver Program. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/research-and-analysis/examining-fmcsa-vision-standard-cmv-drivers-and-waiver-program
  2. U.S. Department of Transportation. Resources for Key Persons: Employees. https://www.transportation.gov/odapc/employee
  3. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. What are the hearing requirements for CMV drivers? https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/faq/what-are-hearing-requirements-cmv-drivers
  4. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Qualification of Drivers; Exemption Applications; Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/notices/2014-12790
  5. National Center for Biotechnology Information. The Association between Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors and Motor Vehicle Crashes among Professional Truck Drivers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4980233/
  6. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Cardiovascular Advisory Panel Guidelines for the Medical Examination of Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/medical/cardiovascular-advisory-panel-guidelines-medical-examination-commercial-motor
  7. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Recommended Changes to Cardiovascular Disease Guidelines. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/medical/recommended-changes-cardiovascular-disease-guidelines
  8. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Why is the DOT physical examination important? https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/faq/why-dot-physical-examination-important
  9. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. DOT Medical Exam and Commercial Motor Vehicle Certification. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/medical/driver-medical-requirements/dot-medical-exam-and-commercial-motor-vehicle-certification
  10. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Medical Examiner Handbook. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/sites/fmcsa.dot.gov/files/docs/mission/advisory-committees/mrb/83401/fmcsamedicalexaminerhandbook.pdf

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