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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.