The current rules, adopted in 1970, require 20/40 vision in each eye or 20/20 vision with corrective lenses. FHWA has been actively reviewing the standard since the early 1990s. In a 1992 test program, it granted waivers to over 2,000 drivers who had severely impaired vision in one eye. That program was halted when a federal court ruled that FHWA could not prove it wouldn’t jeopardize public safety, as required by law. However, the drivers were allowed to keep their waivers.
Earlier this year, a Minnesota owner-operator successfully challenged the vision rule under the Americans With Disabilities Act and, by court order, was issued a waiver. In June, FHWA announced plans to grant waivers to another 12 monocular drivers who met the same qualifications as the owner-operator.
With this latest announcement, however, FHWA is exercising new authority granted in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.
TEA-21 essentially relaxes the requirement that FHWA prove, in advance, that an exemption would have absolutely no adverse effect on safety. Instead, waivers and exemptions can be based on a reasonable expectation that an exemption would enhance -- or at least not jeopardize -- highway safety.
Because of the previous waiver programs, FHWA has the ammunition it needs. Safety records of those monocular drivers have remained excellent, thus it’s logical that other monocular drivers, with similar qualifications, “can also adapt to their vision deficiency and operate safely,” the agency said.
All 24 drivers have severely impaired vision in one eye. All currently hold commercial drivers licenses that allow them to operate intrastate, and all have accident-free, citation-free driving records.
FHWA must still draft formal procedures for waiver and exemption applications but said it decided to act on these applications, received before TEA-21 was enacted, “to avoid delay and injustice.”
The exemptions will be good for two years, during which time the drivers must undergo annual vision and physical examinations. FHWA stressed that it will revoke the exemptions if there is any adverse affect on highway safety.
The notice appeared in the December 1, 1998, Federal Register and can be accessed on the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara. For more information call Michael Thomas, Office of Motor Carrier Research and Standards, (202) 366-8786 or Judith Rutledge, Office of the Chief Counsel (202) 366-0834.