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How Often Do Truck Drivers Fail DOT Physicals?

Truck drivers have to undergo a physical exam at least once every two years to ensure they're in good enough health to safely operate a commercial vehicle. Some pass with flying colors while doctors may ask others to return sooner than 24 months for monitoring. Still others, however, fail the DOT exam for one reason or another and are unable to operate commercially. How often does that happen?

Answer: There aren't clear statistics for DOT physical failures, but between disqualifying medical conditions and rejections for drug use, a significant number of candidates do not pass.

The Rule

A person . . . must not operate a commercial motor vehicle unless he or she is medically certified as physically qualified to do so, and . . . when on-duty has on his or her person the original, or a copy, of a current medical examiner's certificate that he or she is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

49 CFR § 391.41

How Might Someone Fail a Physical?

The whole purpose of DOT physicals is to identify health conditions that can seriously affect or obstruct someone's performance at the wheel, including:

  • Epilepsy or other neurological disorders
  • Uncontrolled diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Missing Extremities
  • Poor vision or hearing
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Lack of circulation
  • Poor reflexes or reaction time
  • Certain psychiatric disorders

Those factors and others like them could spell disaster both for commercial drivers and for anyone caught in their path if something goes wrong. If found by a physician during a DOT exam, most of those conditions result in a patient being disqualified.

Do Drivers Who Fail Get Another Chance?

The FMCSA permits drivers to seek a second opinion if they fail their first DOT exam. It's not guaranteed that the second attempt will go better; they must prove that the first doctor's assessment was somehow unreasonable and must be honest about their medical history and conditions, including whatever caused them to fail the first time.

If the second physician approves a driver for duty that driver must notify the FMCSA and explain the disparity between the doctors' findings. If the second test also results in failure, though, there is no third chance.

Why Does This Matter to Truck Accident Victims?

In the end it may not be possible to assign some specific number to the DOT exam failure rate; sources vary not only on how many drivers fail, but also for what reasons. However, quite frankly those statistics aren't really what matters to a truck accident victim. By the time a commercial driver has a medical episode and hurts someone in a crash it's too late to wonder if he should have been disqualified by a doctor, and what's more his accident isn't some referendum on the trucking industry as a whole. It's simply a question of negligence: Did the driver hit the road knowing what could happen? Just as troubling, did his employer know when they put him on a route? If either of those is answered by "yes," they should be held properly accountable.

That can be difficult to accomplish alone, particularly for someone just trying to get back on their feet after a major wreck. The Texas truck accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have decades of combined experience helping people and families hurt by negligent commercial drivers; if you or a loved one were injured in an 18-wheeler accident, call any time for a free consultation.

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