After years of issuing exemptions on an individual basis for commercial drivers with poor or no vision in one eye, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has adopted a new program for such drivers to become qualified, effective March 22.
The final rule, published in the Federal Register Jan. 21, sets up a process to qualify drivers who can’t meet the existing distant visual acuity standard with corrective lenses or the field of vision standard, or both.
Currently, such individuals are prohibited from driving CMVs in interstate commerce unless they obtain an exemption from FMCSA. The agency has been granting exemptions on an individual basis since 1998. The new alternative vision standard replaces the current exemption program and a grandfathered exemption program that existed before that. Drivers with those exemptions — close to 4,000 — will have a year to meet the new standard before their current waivers are declared void.
The proposed rule was published just over a year ago. In May, FMCSA’s Medical Review Board gave its stamp of approval.
FMCSA compared the new rule to the framework the agency adopted in 2018 for drivers with insulin-treated diabetes. The agency said the rule will reduce barriers to entry for commercial drivers and takes a more individualized approach to medical certification than the vision exemption program it replaces.
The New Alternative Vision Standard for Commercial Drivers
Before he or she can be medically certified under the new alternative vision standard, the individual must have a vision evaluation conducted by an ophthalmologist or optometrist, who will provide specific medical opinions on the new Vision Evaluation Report, Form MCSA-5871.
Next, a DOT-registered medical examiner must perform a physical qualification examination and determine whether the individual meets the alternative vision standard, as well as FMCSA's other physical qualification standards. If the driver meets those standards, the examiner can issue the driver a medical certificate for a maximum of one year.
The new alternative vision standard requires that the individual:
- have, in the better eye, distant visual acuity of at least 20/40 (Snellen), with or without corrective lenses, and field of vision of at least 70 degrees in the horizontal meridian;
- be able to recognize the colors of traffic signals and devices showing standard red, green, and amber;
- have a stable vision deficiency; and
- have had enough time pass since the vision deficiency became stable to adapt to and compensate for the change in vision.
After being qualified under the alternative vision standard for the first time, the driver must complete a road test performed by the employing motor carrier.
Drivers are exempted from the road test requirement if they have three years of intrastate or specific excepted interstate CMV driving experience with the vision deficiency, hold a valid federal vision exemption, or are medically certified under the previously administered vision waiver study program.