Before a new truck driver can begin training, he or she must first undergo a routine physical. Annual exams are required once the driver gets a license. The physical exam is not intended to punish drivers who are not perfect specimens of physical health; it is designed to prevent unfit drivers from getting behind the wheel of a large, commercial vehicle.
The thing to remember about the annual physical is that drivers do not have to be in 100% perfect health. In fact, does anyone really qualify under such a strict standard? Probably not. We all have health conditions to some degree or another. The question is whether an individual's health concerns are serious enough to make him or her a danger on the road.
Eyesight and Hearing
Right off the bat, the driver physical takes a look at both eyesight and hearing. A driver has to be able to see well enough, with or without corrective lenses, to safely navigate the highways and byways in a truck. Conditions that can be easily corrected with contacts or glasses will usually not hinder a driver's ability to keep driving. Other conditions may be reason enough to pull a drive off the road – things such as glaucoma and cataracts.
As for hearing, doctors have a bit more leeway. Though it might be challenging for someone who is deaf to pass the driver's physical, it is not impossible. Doctors have to evaluate hearing along with a driver's overall physical health. As a side note, the DOT granted 40 driver applications from hearing-impaired drivers for the first time in 2013.
Serious and Threatening Health Conditions
Doctors examine CDL drivers for the presence of serious health conditions that could prove threatening. For example, a driver can have no current clinical diagnosis of myocardial infarction, coronary insufficiency, or other kinds of cardiovascular diseases that can be immediately life-threatening. The key operating word here is 'current'.
There are all sorts of diseases and health conditions a driver can have in his or her past without necessarily disqualifying current and future driving. As long as a doctor verifies a driver's current health is good enough to minimize the risks, quite a few medical conditions can be accommodated.
Alcohol and Drug Use
One area in which there is no leniency is drug and alcohol use. Any driver with a current clinical diagnosis of alcoholism or drug addiction will automatically be disqualified from commercial driving. Furthermore, annual drug tests are required to hold on to a CDL license. Federal and state governments, as well as employers, take the issue of driving while impaired very seriously. They will not tolerate drivers who abuse drugs or alcohol.
Having said that, the restrictions do not prohibit a driver from moderate drinking on his or her time off. Drivers simply have to be cognizant of the fact that the effects of alcohol can linger for quite a while. It's never advisable to drink within 10 to 12 hours of beginning a shift. Not drinking at all for 24 hours prior to starting work is the best policy.
As for illicit drug use, there is really nothing to say. Under no circumstances should truck drivers be using illegal drugs of any kind, for any purpose, and in any volume. Enough said.
If you've been thinking about a career as a truck driver but you are concerned about your health, don't give up just yet. Research your health condition and how it might affect your ability to drive. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn you can get a CDL license.