Commercial Driver’s Licenses

Video description and transcript can be found here.

Deaf Truckers Wanted!

  • Do you want to be a truck driver?
  • Are you over the age of 21?
  • Are you a safe driver?

The NAD wants to help. The NAD is asking the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) to let people who are deaf and hard of hearing drive trucks.  If you are interested in being a trucker, please read the FAQs below to get information on applying for an exemption from the DOT.

The NAD is currently working to ensure individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing may obtain a CDL. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has Physical Qualification Standards in order to obtain a CDL. These requirements state that drivers have to be able to hear a “forced whisper at not less than 5 feet in the better ear with or without a hearing aid, or cannot have an average hearing loss in the better ear greater than 40 decibels at 500 Hz, 1,000 Hz, and 2,000 Hz with or without a hearing aid.”1  However, the DOT grants exemptions from these and other Physical Qualification Standards where such exemption would likely achieve a level of safety that is equal to or greater than the level achieved absent such exemption.2

On February 1, 2013, after many months of study the DOT concluded that granting exemptions to drivers who are deaf and hard of hearing achieves a level of safety that is equal to or greater than the level achieved absent such exemption. With the assistance of the NAD, the first 40 drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing were granted the exemptions.3 In granting exemptions to these drivers, the DOT relied upon an Executive Study commissioned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2008.4 The Executive Study concluded that there is no increased crash risk with respect to drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing. The Executive Study also questioned the validity of the “forced whisper test” that is commonly utilized to determine whether a person can satisfy the hearing qualification standard. In granting the first 40 exemptions, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advised that it was considering the NAD’s request that it rescind the hearing standard from the Physical Qualification Standards altogether. The NAD will continue to fight for the removal of the hearing standard in its entirety.

Individuals who have safe driving records and want to obtain a CDL are encouraged to apply for exemptions from the Physical Qualification Standards. These written exemption requests should be mailed to:

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20590-0001

And you should keep us informed by sending a copy to us by email to [email protected] or mail (certified) to:

NAD — CDL Waiver Program
8630 Fenton Street, Suite 820
Silver Spring, MD 20910

An exemption request should include the following:

(1) a completed copy of the application;
(2) a completed copy of the Medical Release of Information form;
(3) a legible copy of the front and back of your valid drivers license;
(4) a recent, official copy of your driver abstract (driving record) from your state department of motor vehicles;

Please be aware that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration may take many months to process your application. Also, please be aware that if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration grants you an exemption, you will be required to apply for a new exemption every two years.

The NAD does not have the resources at this time to assist with individual exemption requests, however, we hope this information is useful to you in making such an application. We will continue to encourage the DOT to remove the Physical Qualification Standards regarding hearing so that individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing may obtain CDLs without need for an exemption.

What can I do with a Commercial Driver’s License?
If you want to drive a commercial motor vehicle interstate – between states – you must get a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).   A commercial motor vehicle is a motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicles that weighs more than 26,001 pounds, or is used to transport 16 or more passengers including the driver, or carries hazardous materials.

Do I have to pass a hearing test to get a CDL?
The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) sets the safety standards for obtaining a Commercial Drivers License (CDL).  These safety standards are called Physical Qualification Standards.  The Physical Qualification Standards include a hearing requirement.  If a driver cannot pass the DOT’s Physical Qualification Standards, he or she may be able to obtain an exemption from the hearing requirement to get a CDL.

What do the Physical Qualification Standards say about hearing?
The DOT’s Physical Qualification Standards currently require drivers to be able to hear.  The Standards state that drivers have to be able to hear a forced whisper at not less than 5 feet in the better ear with or without a hearing aid, or cannot have an average hearing loss in the better ear greater than 40 decibels at 500 Hz, 1,000 Hz, and 2,000 Hz with or without a hearing aid.  The NAD has been advocating with the DOT to remove this requirement, and the DOT is considering doing so. However, the DOT has granted a limited number of exemptions to drive Class B vehicles without airbrakes to safe drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing and do not meet this hearing requirement.

Can I get an exemption if I cannot pass the DOT hearing test?
The DOT has granted a limited number of exemptions to operate Class B vehicles without airbrakes to safe drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing and cannot pass the DOT’s hearing test.  If you want a CDL to operate Class B commercial motor vehicles without airbrakes, but cannot pass the DOT’s hearing test, please download the exemption form and submit to the DOT.  If you are qualified, the DOT may grant you an exemption from the CDL hearing requirement.

Who do I contact if I have more questions about getting an exemption from the DOT’s hearing standards?
Contact us if you have any questions.

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1 49 C.F.R. § 391.41(b)(11).

2 49 U.S.C. § 31315(b).

See FMCSA-2012-0154-0588. For further information on the exemption decision, please contact Ms. Elaine M. Papp, Chief, Medical Programs Division at (202) 366-4001, or [email protected].

See also N. Price, et al “Executive Summary on Hearing, Vestibular Function and Commercial Motor Driving Safety” (2008) available at http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/TOPICS/mep/report/Hearing-Evidence-Report-Final-Executive-Summary-prot.pdf