What is CDL Medical Exam

What is CDL Medical Exam – Overview

Individuals such as school bus drivers, truck drivers, and companies employing commercial vehicle drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) must pass the Department of Transportation (DOT) physical exam before employment and then every two years to maintain their CDL status.

A DOT medical exam ensures the safety of the public and prevents accidents. This article contains all the relevant information about the CDL medical exams you are looking for.

What is DOT Physical

A DOT medical exam is usually called a DOT physical. It is a comprehensive physical test mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It is required for people who hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and work as commercial vehicle drivers.

CDL drivers are required to take and pass the DOT physical exam once every 24 months. It is necessary to ensure public safety by ensuring the drivers of heavy commercial vehicles are mentally and physically fit to drive.

Who Should Take a CDL Medical Exam

The following types of drivers and employees need to take the DOT physical exam:

  • People who operate vehicles designed to carry more than 15 people
  • People who transport hazardous materials that require affixing a placard to their vehicles
  • People who operate vehicles with gross weights of more than 10,000 lbs.
  • People who are employed to operate vehicles that carry more than 8 passengers

What Happens in a CDL Medical Exam

The DOT physical/medical exam for CDL consists of several evaluations. The series of CDL medical exams consists of the following:

What is CDL Medical Exam

What is CDL Medical Exam – Hearing Test

1 – Vision Test

People who hold a CDL license are required to have at least a 20/40 visual acuity in both eyes. This can also include corrected vision with contact lenses or eyeglasses. This test is useful to determine that the driver has a minimum peripheral vision of at least 70” in both eyes (70” may vary and should be verified with current FMCSA guidelines).

2 – Hearing Test

The CDL exam also involves testing the driver’s hearing to check if they can hear a “forced whisper” from at least 5 feet away or less. Commercial drivers must pass the hearing exam with or without a hearing aid. The forced whisper test ensures that the driver is not suffering from hearing loss in their ear. If there is a hearing problem, it should be less than 40 decibels for the applicant to pass this test.

3 – Blood Pressure and Pulse Check

The driver’s blood pressure and pulse rate are checked to ensure regular heartbeats and lack of hypertension.

4 – Urine Analysis

A CDL physical exam also requires applicants to undergo a urine test as part of the DOT medical tests. The urine is analyzed for symptoms of severe health disorders like diabetes.

5 – Sleep Apnea Test

A sleep apnea test is not a standard component of the DOT physical exam. Still, it may be required if a medical examiner finds signs suggesting a sleep apnea risk affecting the driver’s ability to operate a commercial vehicle safely. A sleep apnea test is administered to drivers who report experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Headaches in the morning
  • Daytime fatigue/drowsiness
  • Gasping while sleeping
  • Sore throat / dry mouth after waking
  • Heavy snoring

6 – Physical Examination

Besides the five tests listed above, CDL drivers also need to undergo a thorough physical examination as part of their CDL medical test, which checks the driver:

  • Overall appearance
  • Eyesight (for specific disorders, such as glaucoma, cataracts, etc.)
  • Ears/hearing (to check for perforated eardrums, hearing loss, etc.)
  • Throat and mouth (to check for breathing or swallowing problems)
  • Heart (to test for heart murmurs, arrhythmia, and other heart problems)
  • Chest and lungs (to ensure optimal respiratory health)
  • Abdomen (to check for muscle weakness, liver enlargement, etc.)
  • Vascular system (to ensure normal pulse rate, find carotid and other problems)
  • Genito-urinary system (to check for hernias)
  • Spine and musculoskeletal system
  • Extremities (to test limb deformities or defects)
  • Neurology (to text for neurological impairments and reflexes)

What Conditions Can Disqualify an Applicant for a CDL

The DOT has specified several physical or mental health conditions that can disqualify an applicant from earning a commercial driver’s license. Depending on the specific condition, the applicant can still get an exemption from the FMCSA, based on a statement from their doctor, ensuring that they can drive safely despite the underlying health condition.

As per 49 CFR, part 391 – 391.41, the following health conditions can disqualify drivers from acquiring a commercial driver’s license, according to DOT mandate:

  • Physical impairments, such as the loss of a hand, leg, foot, or arm, do not automatically disqualify an applicant who has been granted a Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) Certificate by the FMCSA.
  • Hand or finger disorders that prevent grasping properly
  • Limb impairments and defects that prevent drivers from safely operating a commercial vehicle
  • Drivers with insulin-treated diabetes mellitus require an exemption from the FMCSA but are not automatically disqualified
  • Cardiovascular disease / congestive heart failure
  • Musculoskeletal disorders that can interfere with safely operating a commercial vehicle
  • High blood pressure that could prohibit the safe operation of a commercial vehicle
  • Epilepsy and other conditions that can cause loss of consciousness
  • Red/green colorblindness
  • Respiratory disorders that could cause loss of consciousness
  • Peripheral vision acuity of less than 70” in one eye or both. FMCA mandates a horizontal field of vision of at least 70 degrees in each eye
  • Drivers must have a visual acuity of 20/40 or better in each eye, with or without corrective lenses, to pass the DOT physical
  • Hearing loss that cannot be corrected to less than 40 dB or less from 5 feet away

Besides this, certain medical conditions can also disqualify an applicant from acquiring a commercial driver’s license, such as:

  • Psychotic disorders
  • Major depressive disorders (history of suicidal/homicidal ideations, suicide attempts, psychosis, etc.)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorders
  • Bipolar disorders


To get a CDL medical exam, your employer can contact a certified medical examiner near you by searching the FMCSA’s National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners here https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/national-registry/national-registry-certified-medical-examiners.

A CDL license is legally mandatory to operate commercial vehicles of any kind. The DOT has specified an extensive CDL medical exam to ensure applicants are mentally and physically healthy enough to operate heavy commercial vehicles safely. This medical exam is a comprehensive physical test that evaluates visual acuity, hearing, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, and various elements. It ensures that the applicant for a CDL license has their faculties intact and is fit and responsible enough to drive a bus, truck, or other company vehicles.

See Also

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Current Version
March 11, 2024
Updated By
Andrea Morales G.

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