FMCSA Board OKs Plan to End Exemption Process for Monocular Drivers

A monocular driver deemed medically qualified can receive a medical certification for driving up to 12 months.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Medical Review Board put its stamp of approval on a proposed plan for the agency to eliminate its exemption process for truck drivers with vision in only one eye.

The proposal, if finalized, would amend the agency’s 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 commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce under specified conditions.

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 specified medical information and opinions on a proposed Vision Evaluation Report.

Next, a 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 medical examiner determines that the individual meets the physical qualification standards, the medical examiner could issue a Medical Examiner’s Certificate for a maximum of 12 months.

In addition, with limited exceptions, individuals physically qualified under the alternative standard for the first time would complete a road test by a motor carrier before operating a CMV in interstate commerce.

The proposed action would eliminate the need for the current federal vision exemption program, as well as the grandfather provision for drivers operating under the previously administered vision waiver study program.

The plan is similar to one put into effect in 2019 that removed the agency’s requirement that insulin-dependent diabetic drivers wait up to six months to obtain an exemption to get behind the wheel. The alternate diabetes certification process has been working well, according to FMCSA officials.

FMCSA officials have said that elimination of the vision exemption process will not only make the medical certification of monocular drivers quicker, but also will cut costs for taxpayers.

“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,” FMCSA said in its proposal.

By latest count, more than 2,500 interstate drivers hold FMCSA vision exemptions, according to the agency.

In a May 19 virtual meeting, the five-member Medical Review Board approved a form that must be filled out by an optometrist or ophthalmologist in an evaluation of a monocular truck driver.

The alternate standard requires a truck driver with one eye to have distant visual acuity of at least 20/40 and a field of vision of at least 70 degrees. In addition, a driver must have the ability to recognize the colors of traffic signals and devices showing standard red, green and amber colors.

The board agreed to add a requirement that unless a monocular driver already had three years of experience behind the wheel, he or she also would be required to pass a road test by a motor carrier planning to hire the driver.

One issue that remained unresolved by the board was the minimum time for a driver to wait after losing vision in one eye. While Medical Review Board members agreed that it takes time to adjust vision to only one eye, they could not agree how long that period should be.

A monocular driver deemed medically qualified can receive a medical certification for driving up to 12 months.

One of the rebuttals to many of the concerns the agency has heard is that there have not been any significant problems or issues with monocular drivers in the last 30-plus years.

“This could lead one to conclude drivers with monocular vision are as safe as other drivers,” FMCSA said. “We remind readers that the data is either absent or conflicting regarding the safety of monocular drivers. With such a small percentage of drivers having monocular vision, this data will continue to be difficult to obtain in a statistically significant manner.”

About The Author

Eric Miller has been a reporter and writer at publications nationwide for 40 years. He’s been at Transport Topics the past 11 years, currently on the paper’s government team; worked as a reporter at the Dallas Morning News; reporter, editor and member of the investigative team at The Arizona Republic; reporter at the Tampa Tribune; city editor at the Santa Fe New Mexican; and senior writer for D Magazine in Dallas.

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