The article “Disqualified” appeared in Overdrive magazine in 2006. Although somewhat dated, it gives valuable insight into the commercial driver with impairments caused by physical or medical conditions. It tells of the personal hardships they endure after being disqualified at a DOT physical, sometimes after decades of safe driving. This is both a shock and disappointment to these drivers who for the most part, were unaware of the standard and regulations governing interstate commerce. (For the sake of fairness, though, the article seemed a little one-sided, but then again, the FMCSA reportedly chose not to comment as per author).
The drivers, for all practical purposes first stumbled over these regulations when they went to a new medical examiner for their physical, and the examiner pointed out the deficiency and the regulatory requirements, and in turn disqualified them. When they were advised of their right to apply for an exemption if they were found qualified otherwise, the confusion and frustration grew, because now they need some “special piece of paper” to drive across state lines.
A large part of the problem was related to the lack of standardized training for medical examiners that existed then. Many examiners were unaware and untrained in the FMCSA Rules and Regulations. As a result, we were left with angry, disgruntled drivers with little faith in the certification process or the FMCSA, who end up going through an emotional roller coaster of sorts. They never heard of a SPE certificate for limb deficiency or of the Federal Vision Exemption Program for monocular vision. This sort of thing should hopefully be passé now that compliance with the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (NRCME) is in effect. A final complaint in the article was that the process of obtaining an exemption was too slow and too restrictive. According to the agency there are now over 3,000 drivers granted SPE certificates so far for limb impairments and deficiencies and there are approximately 1,929 drivers who are active (as of June 30, 2012) in the Vision Exemption Program.
In the few weeks leading to the May 21, 2014 compliance date, drivers who did not meet the regulatory standards due to monocular vision, insulin treated diabetes mellitus (ITDM), epilepsy, and bilateral hearing deficits all walked in to see me for a DOT physical, genuinely unaware that their condition could impact their certification. Apparently some things still haven’t changed, hence the need for continued driver education. Except for the hearing impaired driver, the others seemed just as surprised by the qualification standards as the drivers depicted in this article being reviewed. The hearing impaired driver who came to renew his card already had extensive audiology evaluations done and qualified with the use of hearing aids on audiometry testing. The ITDM driver is currently applying for an exemption, and the others are well, wondering why they are suddenly in this situation after so many years, and are considering their options.