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What is a DOT physical? And other frequently asked questions

A patient discussing with a medical examiner in a well-lit office.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes 

If you’re considering becoming a professional truck driver, one of the first steps you’ll need to take is to complete your Department of Transportation (DOT) physical. 

But what is a DOT physical? And what does the exam consist of? Keep reading to find out. 

What is a DOT physical? 

A DOT physical is a health examination mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The examination is designed to ensure professional commercial vehicle drivers are physically and mentally capable of handling the demands of their job. 

Can any doctor do a DOT physical?

DOT physicals must be carried out by a Certified Medical Examiner (CME).  

If an examiner deems a person fit to drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV), the provider will give the person a copy of their physical results and fill out a Medical Examiner's Certificate. 

If the examiner does not deem a person fit to drive a CMV, the individual will not receive a Medical Examiner's Certificate and may be required to seek further medical evaluation or treatment before they can be considered eligible. Those who fail a DOT physical can still receive a second opinion from a different CME. 

Who is required to get a DOT physical? 

The FMCSA requires any Commercial Driver's License (CDL) holder who operates a CMV in interstate commerce to undergo a DOT physical.  

Examples of individuals who need to pass a DOT physical include: 

  • Drivers of vehicles with a gross weight of 10,001 pounds or more.
  • Drivers of vehicles designed to transport more than 15 passengers.
  • Drivers of vehicles that transport hazardous materials.

What does a DOT physical consist of?  

A DOT physical includes several components that are designed to test someone’s overall health and physical ability.  

A DOT physical usually includes: 

  • A health history review: You'll need to provide your comprehensive health history, including past surgeries, chronic illnesses, current medications and any symptoms that could affect your ability to drive safely.
  • A physical examination: The examiner will perform a general physical exam, checking your heart rate, blood pressure, weight and overall physical appearance.
  • Vision and hearing tests: Your vision and hearing will be tested to ensure they meet the necessary standards.
  • A urinalysis: A urinalysis is conducted to check for the presence of drugs or other medical conditions, like diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular and respiratory evaluations: These include examinations of your heart and lungs to detect any abnormalities that could impact your driving ability.

To get the full picture of what you can expect in a DOT physical, check out the Medical Examiner’s Report Form.

What are the DOT physical requirements? 

To pass a DOT physical, drivers must meet several health criteria. These include, but are not limited to: 

1. Vision criteria. 

Drivers must have at least 20/40 vision in each eye with or without correction. This means they should be able to read a standard eye chart from 20 feet away.  

Additionally, drivers must show they have a 70-degree field of vision in each eye, and should not have any color blindness that would impair their ability to recognize traffic signals and devices. 

2. Hearing criteria. 

Drivers must be able to perceive a forced whispered voice in the better ear at not less than 5 feet with or without a hearing aid. This requirement ensures drivers can hear potential warnings or emergency signals while on the road. 

3. Blood pressure criteria. 

Drivers' blood pressure must be less than 140/90. The pulse rate is also checked to detect any irregularities in the heart rhythm. 

4. Medical conditions. 

Certain medical conditions can disqualify someone from passing a DOT physical. These include epilepsy, certain heart conditions, severe high blood pressure, insulin-dependent diabetes and addiction to drugs or alcohol. 

5. Mental health conditions. 

Mental health is as important as physical health for a driver. Conditions like severe depression or anxiety may disqualify a driver from passing their physical. 

These are just a few of the requirements to pass a DOT physical. Everyone's medical history and condition are unique, so what disqualifies one person might not disqualify another.  

A complete list of disqualifying conditions and exemptions can be found in the FMCSA’s guidelines. 

How often are DOT physicals required? 

In general, a DOT physical exam certificate lasts for up to 24 months. However, more frequent examinations may be required when there is a need to monitor certain conditions, such as high blood pressure.  

How much does a DOT physical cost? 

A DOT physical costs between $50 and $150, depending on the state the driver lives in. However, many trucking companies will cover the cost of a DOT physical.  

How long does a DOT physical take? 

A DOT physical typically takes 30 to 60 minutes.  

What should I bring to a DOT physical? 

For a DOT physical, you should bring: 

  • Medical records.
  • Your continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine and compliance data if you have.
  • A list of any health conditions you have and who treats you for them.
  • A complete list of any medications you take and who prescribes them to you.

Wondering how to prepare for a DOT physical?

If you want to give yourself the greatest opportunity to do well in your exam, check out these expert tips on how to pass a DOT physical. 
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