Despite continued opposition from a national safety group, the Federal Highway Administration says it will go ahead with plans to exempt another 32 drivers from federal vision requirements.
Responding to a May notice that FHWA was considering these exemptions, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety argued that a 1992 study of monocular drivers is not a valid basis for granting exemptions. That study gave vision waivers to some 2,000 drivers who had impaired vision in one eye, but had excellent driving records (drivers who don't meet federal vision requirements may still operate in some states). The study was halted for procedural reasons after two years, but the drivers were allowed to keep their waivers.
An assessment of the drivers' performance in 1998 showed that they continued to have an accident rate that was much lower than the national average.
FHWA has acknowledged some weaknesses in the waiver study. In particular, the agency says the results cannot be applied to drivers who don't meet the same physical and performance criteria. Nevertheless it maintains that the study program has a high degree of validity and will continue to be a basis for certain exemptions.
As with 35 drivers previously granted exemptions, these drivers have at least three years of experience operating a commercial vehicle with impaired vision and have safe driving records for three years prior to their exemption applications. The exemptions are good for two years, during which time the drivers must undergo regular physical and vision exams. While the exemptions qualify the drivers to operate in interstate commerce, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that carriers may refuse to hire them without violating the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The notice was published in the September 23 Federal Register, available on the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html. For additional information contact Sandra Zywokarte, Office of Motor Carrier Research and Standards, (202) 366-2987.