When you’re applying for (or renewing) a Commercial Drivers License (CDL), federal law requires you to take a physical—and for good reason—driving for a living requires that you be in (relative) good health, as operating a motor vehicle requires paying close attention for long periods of time without losing concentration. Sitting for such a long period of time each day puts you at a health risk, and, if you’re prone to sleep-related illnesses, drowsy driving can lead to higher accident rates. It’s important for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to know that folks on the road can be trusted to stay vigilant and attentive with their long hours. Because of this, a CDL doesn’t require just any physical: commercial drivers must take a DOT physical, an exam that goes above and beyond a standard physical to assess your ability to drive both efficiently and safely. So what does a DOT physical consist of?
What is a DOT physical?
A bit more complex than your standard physical, the DOT physical is required by any commercial drivers who:
- Drive commercial vehicles that carry 9-15 passengers or cross state lines
- Operate a commercial vehicle weighing over 10,001 (very specific!) pounds and/or cross state lines
- Transport hazardous materials (in specific quantities)
This also includes anybody operating interstate buses or large trucks. If you’re applying for a CDL-related job, the employer will definitely let you know if you need to take a DOT physical before you’re able to drive for the company. The goal of the DOT physical exam is to make sure that nothing, either physically or mentally, will interfere with a driver’s safe and efficient vehicle operation.
It is important for all drivers to be safe on the road—that includes YOU!
What Happens in a DOT Physical Exam?
If you’re wondering what does a dot physical consist of, you’re not alone. The questions and testing are a bit more rigorous than a standard doctor’s check-up. You’ll not only take some basic tests but you’ll be asked a series of more specific-to-the-job questions and here are some of the questions you should expect to be asked and medical exams you’ll undergo:
Be honest here because if you’re involved in a crash (hopefully not) down the road (pun alert!) your medical history will be called into question. They just want to make sure you’re not an outright liability. Make sure you have a list of all of your medications, including the doses and your doctors’ names (better safe than sorry).
It’s likely that you’ll need to give a urine sample, not for drug or alcohol use (unless required specifically by an employer) but for signs of medical conditions like diabetes.
The Whisper Test
You will usually take a hearing test wherein one ear is covered and the other is focused on the medical examiner as they whisper strings of numbers or words from several feet away to test your hearing. If you fail, you’ll take an audiometric test, but either way, it’s not as difficult as it sounds.
Your vision is expected to be pretty good, with or without glasses or contacts. If you use either one, bring ‘em!
Having low blood pressure is important for driving on the open road. Your blood pressure must be below 140/90 on the day of your exam or you may not receive your DOT card. Worried about your blood pressure? Take action now!
What do you expect, it’s a physical! If you have a hernia, you’re more likely to be uncomfortable sitting in the driver’s seat all day long.
If you have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder like sleep apnea and use a CPAP machine, make sure you bring a reading from the machine that will document your proper use of it. If you have a sleep specialist, get a letter of recommendation from them as well. If you are not diagnosed with sleep apnea but have a snoring issue, this snoring solution works for 75% of snorers and can help you get better sleep quality.
If you have a history of heart conditions, bring a letter from your cardiologist that outlines the medical history and current medications.
All you’re really trying to do in a DOT physical is indicate that it is safe for you to be a professional driver. Make sure you’re actively treating anything that might be a red flag with the proper medications and documentation, that you’re able to back that information up from a doctor, and that you’re taking the proper steps toward staying safe.
DOT Physical and Sleep Apnea
Because drowsy driving is a serious concern, there are questions that relate to your sleep history and sleep-related medical conditions—in 2013 alone, drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes. It’s especially pertinent to be aware of the risks of drowsy driving for commercial truck drivers, who routinely will drive more than 10 hours in a single day.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which your breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night. While there are three distinct types of sleep apnea, the most common type is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates roughly 22 million Americans suffer from the condition. In 2017, DOT considered passing a law that would require testing for sleep apnea but the law never passed. Currently (November, 2019), the U.S. Department of Transportation doesn’t require sleep apnea testing for truck drivers, but it is still important to be aware that sleep-related questions may be asked during your DOT physical.
The medical examiner may decide that a driver needs sleep apnea testing after the exam is over, which would require seeing a specialist, but it’s entirely up to that examiner whether or not they believe a sleep-related condition might interfere with your ability to drive.
If you’ve been diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea, you may be considered unsafe to drive and have your CDL revoked until you receive proper treatment and are certified “safe to drive” by your medical examiner. Drowsy driving is no joke! Just make sure that you’re taking the correct steps toward solving your issues.
Passing Your DOT Physical Exam
And there you have it—the DOT physical exam can seem like a really excessive, kind of ambiguous test, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little foresight, preparation, and your own ability to back up your medical claims, you’ll be able to pass the DOT physical with no problem. Ready to put the keys in that big rig and drive? Time to hit the road, informed, well-rested, and healthy!