If you're considering a career as a commercial truck driver, you might have heard of a DOT physical exam and wondered, “What is a DOT physical?” A DOT or CDL physical exam simply refers to the health and safety exam required by the DOT (Department of Transportation) in order for a driver to be eligible to drive a commercial vehicle safely. Individuals who pass the DOT physical requirements are considered to be in good physical condition, with no health issues that might impair or affect their driving ability, and thus their own safety and the safety of others on the road.
While the requirements for a DOT physical exam can seem overwhelming, we've broken down what you need to know and how to prepare for your CDL physical.
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Your DOT exam determines your eligibility to drive a commercial vehicle based on your current and past medical history, this is why it's important to be prepared when you walk into the office for your exam. Here's what to expect from your DOT physical so you can feel comfortable with the process and be as relaxed as possible during your exam.
All drivers are required to take a vision test and have at least 70” peripheral vision and 20/40 acuity in each eye to ensure safety on the road while driving. Vision can be aided by corrective lenses if needed.
Not only does your vision have to be in good shape, but your hearing also needs to be in good working order for you to safely operate a commercial vehicle. Hearing can be assisted by a hearing aid if necessary, but whether you use a hearing aid or not, you must still be able to hear a “forced whisper” from a distance of 5 ft or less.
Your physician will carefully examine your blood pressure to check for high blood pressure and related concerns, as well as examine your heart rate for irregularities.
When you hear about urine testing you might automatically think about drug tests. However, that's not true of the DOT physical exam. The urinalysis for your DOT exam screens your sugar and proteins to determine if you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, or if there are any issues with your kidneys, such as an infection.
During your DOT physical exam, your doctor will also cover some basic examination categories including your ears, eyes, mouth, heart, lungs and chest, spine, vascular function, neurological ability, etc. No matter where you get your DOT physical exam, the DOT physical requirements are the same. This is because drivers often cross state lines during transportation and safety requirements for drivers are the same everywhere.
If you need to take medical leave at any point in your career, a new DOT physical may be required depending on whether the reason for your medical leave would impair your ability to safely operate a commercial vehicle. This decision about whether a new physical is necessary is typically left up to the motor carrier, as is the decision to include your CDL physical form in your driver qualification or DQ file. Although it is not required in your DQ file, if your employer includes your DOT physical, they will need to treat your DQ file as confidential information to comply with ADA guidelines.
Commercial drivers are typically expected to get a DOT physical exam every two years to make sure they are still in good health and can safely operate a commercial vehicle on the open road. However, there are some instances that might necessitate getting a DOT physical sooner than every two years. Individuals with certain conditions, like Stage 1 hypertension, can get a DOT certification that is good for one year. More serious conditions like Stage 2 Hypertension require checkups at more frequent intervals—in this case, every three months until the condition is under control.
You won't have to look far to find a physician who can perform a DOT physical for you. However, you will need to make sure that whoever you choose to perform your CDL physical is recognized by the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners and certified by the FMCSA. Thankfully, there are many physicians who are qualified to perform DOT physicals so you should not have a difficult time locating one nearby. Your primary care physician may even be qualified, but you should always double check.
Coming prepared to your DOT exam will help you and your doctor breeze through the process. At your DOT exam, you are required to disclose any medical history and can face serious consequences if you choose not to disclose important information to your physician, especially if it leads to a traffic incident. Here are a few things to bring with you on the day of your CDL physical exam:
If you're worried about qualifying for your DOT card, check in with your primary care physician for a physical beforehand to see where your health is at. This will help you prepare for your DOT physical exam and know what to expect. Additional DOT physical requirements for your CDL physical can help you know what to bring if you have other preexisting medical conditions.
If you fail to meet DOT physical requirements or fail to update your DOT physical, it is the equivalent to driving without your CDL. As you can imagine, this is not an ideal situation for you or your employer. In order to comply with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration standards, companies require that you have your DOT physical up-to-date in order to drive.
If your DOT somehow expires while you're on the road, you'll quickly find out—and it won’t be pleasant. If your CDL physical expires and you're pulled over or pass through a weigh station, you will get an out-of-service citation and won’t be able to complete your delivery. This can lead to fines, suspensions, and penalties, as well as job loss for putting your employer in a bind.
If you’re involved in an accident without an updated DOT physical, you may very well lose your license for life and will never be able to drive commercially again. If you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the incident occurred, you will be placed under arrest. Do the smart thing and keep your CDL physical and medical card up-to-date.
If you operate any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 10,001 pounds or more, or a vehicle that carries hazardous materials, or vehicles carrying over 15 people (like buses) you must have a DOT physical for your CDL to be valid. If you change employers before your CDL physical expires your new company may request that you take the physical again. However, most companies will cover the cost of the physical if yours has not yet expired.
There may be certain circumstances in which a driver might be able to obtain a waiver on some of the DOT physical requirements that they otherwise would not pass. These exemptions are related to diabetes, vision, hearing, and physical impairments (such as missing a finger or having a prosthesis). Drivers can apply for these waivers on a case-by-case basis, with exemptions generally granted when it can be shown that the potential issue is well-managed and there is no danger to granting the request.
A non-DOT physical is a physical exam not related to the Department of Transportation. Individuals working as truck drivers, pilots, or transporters of hazardous materials are regulated by the DOT and must undergo DOT physicals , but those in less regulated industries may not have the same DOT requirements.
When you go to the doctor for your DOT physical, you might be concerned about whether or not you will pass or fail your examination. A CDL physical is meant to ensure that your health is not a threat to the public or yourself while driving a commercial vehicle. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular or respiratory disease, loss of a limb, alcoholism, or other health concerns you might not be considered qualified to drive a commercial vehicle until you are medically examined and certified to do so.
For some health conditions, you might be right on the line between passing and failing. While one physician might pass you in these conditions, another might say the opposite. This is why you're always permitted to seek a second opinion. However, you must make sure to be open and honest about your medical history; otherwise, you could be subject to fines. If you do have a condition such as diabetes, epilepsy, missing limbs, or hearing and vision problems you might be granted an exemption and permitted to drive, provided you can prove you are able to safely operate a vehicle by undergoing a Skills Performance Evaluation or SPE.
All DOT tests include a urinalysis. However, it's not for the purpose of drug testing unless otherwise requested by your employer. During your DOT physical, your urinalysis checks for kidney disorders and diabetes and is more concerned with your overall health than drug use. All employers hiring drivers will require a DOT drug test, such as during the pre-employment process. In this case, you or your employer will arrange for the DOT drug testing and will need to provide a second urine sample specifically for the drug test.
While drug testing isn't standard for your DOT physical requirements, you will need to let your physician know of any medications you are taking as some can interfere with your driving ability. Occasionally, your medications may temporarily disqualify you from operating a commercial vehicle until you have been off of the medication for a certain period of time. Other types of medication may be permitted while you drive but may require more frequent DOT physical exam check-ins to monitor your condition.
There's really no one answer to how much a DOT physical costs as prices vary and some carriers will help you cover the cost of your CDL physical while others will not. The average price you will pay for a physician to conduct your DOT physical is around $85-$226, with some places as low as $50. If you're looking for convenience, CVS also conducts DOT physicals and lists their costs upfront. At CVS, a DOT physical is $109 and a DOT physical follow up is only $35.
Insurance companies don't usually cover CDL physicals. This means the cost of your DOT physical will most likely be paid out-of-pocket. Thankfully, DOT physicals aren’t that expensive—although they are absolutely necessary and companies will not hire you without one. Make it a priority to set aside money for your CDL physical when it comes time to renew.
When it comes time to get your CDL physical, you can rest easy knowing there are locations all over the country where you can go to renew. CVS has nationwide minute clinics and there are other DOT exam locations you can find with a quick search.
Now that you know all about DOT physicals, you can hit the open road with confidence knowing your DOT physical requirements make sure you’re in good enough health to drive. Considering the daily life of a truck driver requires a significant amount of sitting with little mobility, it’s important to take good care of your health while you're on the road.