It's in everyone's best interest for truck drivers to be in good health. Experiencing a catastrophic medical event while behind the wheel could be deadly, for the driver and other people on the road. That's why the Department of Transportation requires commercial drivers to pass regular physical exams and to provide the DOT with the exam results. Failing to comply has potentially career-ending consequences.
Do I Need a DOT Medical Card?
First things first: although truckers may refer to a DOT medical card, the term is a slight misnomer. Drivers who pass the physical exam actually receive a certificate called the Medical Examiner's Certificate.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is an agency of the DOT, oversees the medical certification process for drivers. Its requirements state that "all commercial drivers of vehicles in interstate commerce with a maximum gross vehicle weight rating of over 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms)" must maintain a current ME certificate. Basically, any interstate driver whose work requires him to have a commercial driver's license (CDL) has to get this certificate.
Where Can I Get the Exam?
Unfortunately, your personal doctor may not be able to perform your physical exam. The FMCSA requires that ME certificates be completed by certified medical examiners who are part of the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. The good news is that there are many certified MEs in most areas, even in rural places. Many types of medical professionals, including physician assistants and nurse practitioners, can be certified to conduct this test, which is sometimes called a CDL physical.
The FMCSA provides a searchable database of MEs, which makes it easy to find a qualified examiner near you. Urgent care centers are often staffed by certified MEs, as are doctor's offices, clinics and other medical settings.
What Happens During the Exam?
The FMCSA requires both the driver and ME to fill out different sections of a five-page report. First, you'll complete sections that asks for information about previous surgeries, any medications you're taking and your general medical history. Then the ME will review those sections, ask questions about them if necessary and complete a physical exam. Expect to have your vital signs and urine tested, along with your hearing and vision.
Assuming the exam results meet the acceptable standards – something that certified MEs know how to determine – the examiner will sign off on the medical report and fill out an ME certificate. The certificate is generally valid for 24 months, but the ME can choose an earlier expiration date if he or she thinks that you have medical conditions that need to be monitored more closely.
If the ME determines that a driver does not meet the accepted medical standards, the FMCSA allows the driver to seek a second opinion from another ME as long as he provides a full and honest medical history to the second ME.
What Happens Next?
Once you have your DOT certification and completed report in hand, send a copy of the results to your State Driver Licensing Agency (SDLA). Each SDLA has different policies for submitting certifications, which require drivers to submit them via mail, fax and/or email.
Failing to obtain an ME certificate and/or failing to provide your SDLA with the certificate has significant repercussions. Each state also establishes its own consequences for drivers who don't keep their certificates current, but at minimum, you can expect to lose your CDL until you submit a valid certificate.