FMCSA proposes to change CMV driver vision requirements

Process would be similar to insulin-treated diabetes

Posted January 14, 2021

A proposed rule would allow commercial drivers who do not meet current vision standards to be medically certified without needing a special exemption.

Existing rules prohibit drivers who do not meet certain vision standards in both eyes from operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) unless they obtain an exemption.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is proposing a new vision standard that would replace criteria that have been in place since 1970. The change would make it much easier for drivers with impaired vision to become medically certified to drive.

Comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) must be provided to FMCSA on or before March 15, 2021.

Summary of the proposed rule

Based on recommendations from FMCSA’s Medical Review Board (MRB), the agency proposes a vision standard that resembles what the agency recently adopted for insulin-treated diabetes mellitus, involving a two-step process for physical qualification. Under the proposed rule:

  1. The driver must obtain a vision evaluation from an ophthalmologist or optometrist who would record the findings and provide specific medical opinions on the proposed Vision Evaluation Report, Form MCSA–5871.
  2. A certified medical examiner (ME) would then:
  1. Perform an examination and determine whether the individual meets the proposed vision standard, as well as FMCSA’s other physical qualification standards.
  2. Medically certify the driver for a maximum of 12 months if he or she determines that the individual meets the physical qualification standards.

During the driver’s medical exam, the ME would consider the information on Form MCSA–5871 and use independent medical judgment to apply the following four standards. The driver must:

  1. Have, in the better eye, distant visual acuity of at least 20/40, with or without corrective lenses, and field of vision of at least 70 degrees in the horizontal meridian;
  2. Be able to recognize the colors of traffic signals and devices showing standard red, green, and amber;
  3. Have a stable vision deficiency; and
  4. Have had sufficient time to adapt to and compensate for the change in vision.

The proposed rule eliminates the need for three years of intrastate driving experience with a vision deficiency, as required in the current federal exemption program.

Under the proposal, those individuals physically qualified under the alternative vision standard for the first time must complete a road test performed by the motor carrier in accordance with §391.31.

Individuals who have already demonstrated they can operate a CMV safely with a vision deficiency, based on one of the following, would be excepted from the road test requirement:

  • Have three years of CMV driving experience with the vision deficiency,
  • Hold a valid federal vision exemption, orAre medically certified under the vision study program (§ 391.64(b)).

This article was written by Kathy Close of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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