Regulators consider changes to vision and hearing standards

By: Daren Hansen

Publication: Transportation Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 02/03/2020

FMCSA may soon ease its restrictions on drivers who have vision or hearing deficiencies

The FMCSA is considering removing some restrictions that currently keep hearing- and vision-impaired drivers from getting medical certificates.

If approved, the changes could allow thousands of currently disqualified drivers to begin operating commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce without the need for a special exemption.

Currently, drivers who cannot meet the federal standards in §391.41 may be allowed to operate commercial vehicles within their home states. However, they cannot cross state lines unless they go through the lengthy process of obtaining a waiver from the FMCSA. Part of that process involves showing proof of a safe driving record.

The following is a guide to where things stand with the vision and hearing standards, how they might change, and what drivers need to do today to get an exemption.

Hearing standards for drivers

Current standard: Drivers must be able to hear a whispered voice in one ear from five feet away, or must not have a hearing loss of more than 40 decibels.

Background: The FMCSA first began issuing exemptions from its hearing standards in 2013 and has granted more than 450 hearing exemptions since that time.

How to apply: Download the FMCSA’s hearing exemption application and medical release form at https://bit.ly/2LTQuNA.

Exemption standards: Drivers are considered for a hearing exemption only if they have a clean driving record, and exempted drivers are prohibited from operating buses with passengers on board. Applicants must submit a driving record and a current medical card indicating that a hearing exemption is required.

Status of rule change: On December 16, 2019, the FMCSA published a notice asking for public comments on whether it should agree to a request to remove the hearing requirement for interstate drivers. In addition, the agency is seeking input on whether it should also remove the requirement that:

  • Drivers be able to speak, and
  • Interpreters not be used during CDL skills tests.

Comments are being accepted until February 14, 2020, at www.regulations.gov under docket number FMCSA-2019-0151.

Vision standards for drivers

Current standard: Drivers must have 20/40 vision in both eyes, a 70-degree field of vision, and the ability to recognize red, green, and yellow traffic signals.

Background: The FMCSA began issuing vision waivers in 1992. Since then, thousands of drivers have been exempted from the vision standard, and hundreds more are exempted each year.

How to apply: Download the FMCSA’s “Vision Package” at https://bit.ly/2LTQuNA. Though an application form is not included, the document does describe the information that must be submitted to FMCSA. Additional documentation is required for residents of Indiana and Florida because those states do not include all crashes and/or citations on their driving records.

Exemption standards: Prior to applying for a vision exemption, a driver must:

  • Obtain a medical certificate indicating that a vision exemption is required,
  • Have three years of safe driving experience in a commercial motor vehicle with the vision deficiency, and
  • Have three years of stable vision.

Applicants need to submit an affidavit from their employer and a recent exam report from an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

Status of rule change: The FMCSA will be proposing a rule to allow drivers with monocular vision to be certified to drive in interstate commerce without needing an exemption. A proposal was scheduled to be out in early 2020.


Key to remember: The FMCSA may soon ease its restrictions on drivers who have vision or hearing deficiencies. In the meantime, drivers may continue to apply for special exemptions from the current physical standards.

About the author
Daren Hansen - Transportation Safety Editor

Based on his expertise in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, Daren is responsible for writing and editing content for safety-related products, publications, and services for the trucking industry,

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