FMCSA Proposes New Vision Program
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing to eliminate its federal vision exemption waiver program and instead let medical professionals and carriers handle determining whether drivers with limited vision in one eye may drive commercial motor vehicles.
In a notice of proposed rulemaking published in the Federal Register on Jan. 12, 2021, FMCSA proposed to amend its regulations to permit an individual who cannot meet either the current distant visual acuity or field of vision standard, or both, in one eye to be physically qualified to operate a CMV in interstate commerce under specified conditions. The driver would need to meet the proposed alternative vision standard and FMCSA’s other physical qualification standards.
In addition, with limited exceptions, individuals physically qualified under the alternative standard for the first time would complete a road test before operating a CMV in interstate commerce. Motor carriers would administer the road tests.
The proposed alternative vision standard is based on recommendations from FMCSA’s Medical Review Board.
The federal government has been granting vision waivers since 1998, when the Federal Highway Administration was in charge of regulating trucking safety.
The agency noted that the proposed process is similar to what it adopted in 2018 for drivers with insulin-dependent diabetes. Just as in the alternative standard for insulin-treated diabetes mellitus, the alternative vision standard would involve a two-step process for physical qualification.
First, an individual seeking physical qualification would obtain a vision evaluation from an ophthalmologist or optometrist, who would record the findings and provide specific medical opinions on the proposed Vision Evaluation Report, Form MCSA-5871, which incorporates the recommendations of the Medical Review Board. Next, an approved FMCSA driver medical examiner would perform an examination and determine whether the individual meets the proposed vision standard, as well as FMCSA’s other physical qualification standards. If the ME determines that the individual meets the physical qualification standards, he or she could issue a Medical Examiner’s Certificate for a maximum of 12 months.
“It is well recognized in the literature that individuals with vision loss in one eye can and do develop compensatory viewing behavior to mitigate the vision loss,” notes the proposal.
Instead of requiring three years of intrastate driving experience with the vision deficiency as in the current exemption program, drivers would have to complete a road test before operating in interstate commerce.
Drivers would be excepted from the road test requirement if they have three years of intrastate or excepted interstate CMV driving experience with the vision deficiency, already hold a valid federal vision exemption, or are medically certified under § 391.64(b). These individuals have already demonstrated they can operate a CMV safely with the vision deficiency, notes the agency.