FMCSA Grants Exemptions to Hearing-Impaired Drivers

February 04, 2013

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has granted the first exemptions to rules for interstate commercial drivers when it comes to hearing standards.

Forty individuals received permission to operate commercial vehicles in interstate commerce effective last Friday. It's good for two years and may be renewed. 

The request was made of the agency last May, with comments taken until the end of July. FMCSA received 570 responses.

Several of the applicants had previous experience driving interstate and became unable to pass the required hearing test, while others had been involved in intrastate commerce, were bus drivers, had driven smaller commercial vehicles or were looking to be first-time truckers.

In announcing its decision, the FMCSA said “that granting exemptions for these CMV [commercial motor vehicle] drivers will provide a level of safety that is equivalent to or greater than the level of safety maintained without the exemptions.”

Current FMCSA standards for hearing were adopted more than 40 years ago.

The applicants received assistance from the National Association of the Deaf. The association cited an FMCSA Medical Review Board study from 2008 that examined the relationship between hearing loss and crash risk exclusively among CMV drivers, as well as evidence from studies of the private driver license holder population, saying these studies do not support the contention that individuals with hearing impairment are at an increased risk for a crash.

In addition, the agency reviewed the applicants’ driving records. While it acknowledges there could be potential consequences of a driver being hearing impaired and/or deaf while operating a CMV under some scenarios, FMCSA said it believes the drivers covered by the exemptions do not pose a risk to public safety.

The NAD also maintained that communication in trucking is no longer hampered by hearing loss because drivers increasingly rely on smartphones and other technology to communicate with dispatch. The NAD conducted over 100 hours of interviews with individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing and reports that deaf drivers face fewer distractions behind the wheel.

While most of the comments to the proposal supported granting the exemptions, including the American Trucking Associations, The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said it did not believe there was enough study evidence to support granting the exemptions and FMCSA should revise hearing standards rather than granting what it called “ad hoc exemptions.”

By Evan Lockridge, Senior Contributing Editor


  1. 1. Rob [ February 06, 2013 @ 10:52AM ]

    From the article:

    In announcing its decision, the FMCSA said “that granting exemptions for these CMV [commercial motor vehicle] drivers will provide a level of safety that is equivalent to or greater than the level of safety maintained without the exemptions.”

    Really? So, there exists a certain rule (a 40 year old rule, btw) and I'm to believe that allowing an individual to not obey the rule is SAFER than making that individual obey that rule?


    Your government at work, peeps.

  2. 2. Leo [ February 06, 2013 @ 05:06PM ]

    With most CMV drivers operating with 2 ear buds in their ears, they do not hear and for most part not aware of what is going on around them anyway. I believe the regulations to be changed that for the hearing test the ears need to be covered. If the administrator can drop a metal trash can and they can hear it, they pass.

  3. 3. Mark [ February 12, 2013 @ 06:12AM ]

    I see this as an achievement due to the fact that Commercial Motor Vehicles have been found to cause hearing loss in hearing drivers. So why should those that see this as their "Bread and Butter" be taken away just because they cannot pass the whisper test? It's not the point that they will be allowing Deaf and Hard of Hearing drivers to operate Commercial Vehicles (which is not an issue as there are even Deaf: Firemen, Police Officers, Business owners, Technical Staff for computers / weather / programmers / city workers / government workers just to name a few. Even the President of the USA has been Hard of Hearing, but was able to perform their job just fine. So why should the Deaf and Hard of Hearing be blocked from Driving Commercial Vehicles? They Shouldn't

  4. 4. Hawk [ February 12, 2013 @ 06:17AM ]

    Now there should be a DEAF President of the USA then maybe people will stop shunning the DEAF doing other high profile jobs. There is only one difference from Hearing to Deaf doing a job, the Deaf cannot hear.

    Lets get out of the 1800's mod of thinking and get with the times. Let them all drive if they are able to. Better then have them stuck collecting Social Security because no one wants to give them a chance to work.

  5. 5. Frank Stephens [ May 13, 2013 @ 11:50AM ]

    So Rob thinks a stupid 40 year old rule shoulds be upheld just because it is 40 years old? Nice.

    I have hearing loss. I failed my DOT because of this stupid "whisper" test. If you can hear someone whisepring from 5 feet away, good to you. If not, welcome to my world.

    However, I will put my driving record and miles driven against Rob or anyone else any day of the week. Oh and I have also ridden thousands upon thousands of miles on a MOTORCYLE too!!

    This is an ignorant test and it needs to be deleted from the books.

  6. 6. Kaywee [ June 13, 2013 @ 01:29PM ]

    That is a great news! Does this applies for a yellow school bus, too? I'm sure Deaf drivers still can concentrate on driving the bus without being distracted by those kids who are chatting or yelling.


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