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What Is a Medical Variance for Truckers?

In Texas, long-haul truck drivers who hold commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) must pass a medical examination, to perform certain work. The certification of this exam must be on file with the Texas Department of Public Safety, and failing to keep this record current may result in the loss or downgrade of a CDL. Even CDL holders who are exempt from showing a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) medical certification must pass a Texas medical exam before driving in the state. After a downgrade, the driver will be required to take the skills and knowledge exams again before hitting the road.

Why are truckers required to have a certification from a medical examiner? Why does the state take it so seriously?

What the Federal Government Requires

FMCSA’s Medical Program Division wants to ensure that commercial motor vehicle drivers are physically qualified to do their jobs. Interstate commerce requires long hours, and truckers are on a tight deadline. Their lifestyles do not promote health, so the government has to step in to protect everyone’s safety on the roads.

FMCSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation set the physical and medical requirements for truckers. Every 24 months, CDL holders must pass a physical exam:

  • Must have 20/40 vision in each eye separately and both eyes combined, with or without glasses or contacts
  • Must be able to distinguish red, yellow, and green (the colors found on traffic signals)
  • Must be able to notice a “forced whisper” at least 5 feet away
  • Must have blood pressure no higher than 160/100, may use medication to achieve this blood pressure
  • Must have blood sugar no higher than 200. If the trucker has diabetes, it must be controlled through diet or medication, NOT insulin injections.
  • Must complete a stress test and provide a note from a physician stating the trucker is able to drive without restrictions, if the trucker has been diagnosed with a cardiovascular disease.

Needless to say, truckers are not allowed to use amphetamines, narcotics, Schedule 1 substances, or any habit-forming drug. However, the FCMSA Medical Examiner may make an exception if the drug was lawfully prescribed and the prescribing physician writes a note to the effect that the trucker is safe for duty.

Anti-seizure medication that must be taken to prevent seizures immediately disqualifies a CDL applicant.

Where the Medical Variance Comes In

However, drivers with physical impairments that do affect their ability to safely operate large trucks can still apply for a medical variance with their state. This exemption will allow them to drive commercially, with a small notification on their CDLs and possible restrictions on what tasks they are allowed to perform.

For drivers with impaired or missing limbs, a skill performance evaluation (SPE) must be conducted by the State of Texas. If the driver passes, he must always carry his SPE certificate with him while on-duty. There are other tests that are conducted for a hearing impairment. Drivers with diabetes, vision impairments, and even seizures may also be granted a variance and allowed to drive commercial trucks across the state.

Though the government sanctions it sometimes, poor health in general is causing increasing problems for truckers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a survey of the long-haul trucking profession, and found that 69% of respondents were obese, and 17% were morbidly obese. Over half of respondents were smokers. Unfortunately, obesity and smoking are associated with increased risk of diabetes, sleep problems, heart problems, cancer, stroke, and orthopedic injuries.

These health conditions can disqualify a long-haul truck driver from performing a dangerous job, but what happens when they are just around the corner, and could occur on a long, lonely stretch of highway?

Where a Texas Truck Accident Lawyer Comes In

When a truck driver crashes, harming others in the process, getting compensation for the victims will be an uphill struggle. In the oil-rich Permian Basin, the trucking industry is booming – and powerful. You need a tough, experienced trucking injury attorney to investigate both the cause of the accident and the potential sources of compensation. Call The Sorey Law Firm P.L.L.C. at (903) 207-5526 to set up a free consultation. Dan Sorey has a background in law enforcement and business administration, and knows how to handle these cases.