by Dr. Alexander Underwood MD, AP, CME
Obviously, being able to see effectively is an important part of driving a commercial vehicle. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has always had legal standards when it came to vision requirements. Unlike other parts of the DOT medical exam, vision standards are regulatory, not guidance based. This means that there is no interpretation left to the medical examiners, specific standards on visual acuity, field of vision, colorblindness, etc must be met in order for a medical certificate to be issued. Previously a driver that was not able to meet the vision standards must apply for a federal exemption. This involved completing a significant amount of medical paperwork, visiting various eye doctors and submitting a packet to the federal government in the hopes of obtaining an exemption. During this long waiting time, the driver’s medical certificate would be incomplete and the driver would not be permitted to start or continue driving.
Thankfully, DOT and FMCSA realized this federal vision exemption practice was burdensome and did not increase overall road safety. In January of 2022, the FMCSA announced there would be a streamlining of the medical certification process for those with visual defects. Instead of completing an initial DOT physical and then waiting on the Federal government to issue an exemption, the process would not require any involvement of an exemption, it would be handled by the driver, his eye doctor and the medical examiner, with some exceptions. The process was finalized in March of 2022. It is as follows:
- A driver who has monocular vision or does not meet the field of vision standard in one eye must have a vision evaluation by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
- The ophthalmologist or optometrist completes the new Vision Evaluation Report, Form MCSA-5871 (available on FMCSA website).
- The driver then presents to the medical examiner for a standard DOT medical exam with a completed MCSA-5871.
- If the driver is deemed medically fit, they will be issued a new medical card MCSA 5876
- In most cases (with specific exceptions) the driver then must satisfactorily complete a road test put forth by his employer.
To note, this new alternative vision standard is not to be used with those who cannot distinguish between red, green and yellow traffic lights. Various levels of colorblindness exist, but those who are totally unable to distinguish these colors cannot be certified. This new alternative vision standard is to be used ONLY in cases of monocular vision (one eye), decreased field of vision, and decreased visual acuity. The medical examiner is not responsible for the road test , the employer is. No marks or exemptions will be checked on the new medical certificate as was the case with a vision exemption.