Gianni Evangelisti Authored By: Gianni Evangelisti

what is a DOT physical

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a division of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). The FMCSA is tasked with enforcing federal regulations that oversee the requirements and processes for those applying for a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).  This includes a physical/health examination for those commercial licensees who -

  • Drive a commercial vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) that exceeds 10,000 lbs. and, 
  • Perform their professional duties that include interstate commerce. 

A DOT physical examination must be done by a medical examiner that has been pre-approved by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; the medical examiner must also be listed in its national registry. Should the Medical Examiner conclude the Commercial Driver’s License applicant is physically fit to safely drive a commercial vehicle, he or she generates a Medical Examiner’s Certificate (ME Certificate), which is a required part of the package when applying for your commercial driver’s license. 



Each state has set forth their instructions as to how to submit a Medical Examiner Certificate. Be certain to follow the rules set by the licensing board in your state that issues a commercial driver’s license. We have compiled a list of each state’s licensing board contact information, which is helpful as it reduces the time required to research.

Sample DOT Medical Examiners Certificate

Sample DOT Medical Examiner's Certificate

The DOT health exam is an important part of the Commercial Driver’s License application process as it demonstrates if the CDL applicant has the physical capability of operating a commercial motor vehicle safely, at application and in the near future. Learn how the DOT physical exam is an integral part of the CDL licensing procedures, as you begin to explore the many potential opportunities for professional commercial drivers of Commercial Motor Vehicles.  

A DOT physical exam is generally repeated every 2 years. This is to determine if the Commercial Driver licensee’s medical conditions have changed over time. However, it is noted that an approved medical examiner has the option to issue a Medical Examiner Certificate for expires in less than two years. This is generally done when an ongoing medical condition the must be monitored on a more frequent basis – i.e. hypertension, among others. 

When preparing for the Department of Transportation physical examination, be certain to collect the following items to bring with you to the physical exam appointment- 

  • A copy of your medical history.
  • A detailed list of medications, including the dosage amount and the frequency the medications are taken. 
  • Corrective lenses or contact lenses – to be used during the eye exam to meet 20/40 eyesight requirements. 
  • Hearing Aids, if applicable – these too are used to meet the criteria set forth for the DOT’s hearing tests. 

In addition to the CDL knowledge exam, the DOT requires a physical exam. The Department of Transportation physical exam is designed to determine if the Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) drivers have the physical capability to safely drive on the nation’s highways. The physical is a comprehensive exam that will include the following evaluations of the Commercial Driver’s License applicant’s-  

  • OVERALL APPEARANCE  - Visual cues regarding weight, obvious tremors or substance abuse issues, to name a few. 
  • EYESIGHT – Standard eye test regarding vision, movement & coordination, and how one’s eyes adjusted to the light. CDL applicants must submit medical histories regarding glaucoma and cataracts, among others.
    • Each eye is tested together and by itself with the use of a Snellen eye chart.  Eyesight is required to be 20/40 with corrective lenses or contacts. The ability to distinguish color is a requirement to pass the Department of Transportation exam.

Snellen Eye Chart

Snellen Eye Chart.  Source: Jeff Dahl [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • HEARING – Hearing abilities and a physical examination of ear structure, i.e. eardrums. 
    • Hearing tests evaluate the CDL applicant’s ability to hear (or not hear) a variety of tones/sounds on different frequencies and from differing distances.  Commercial Driver’s License applicant should be able to perceive (not necessarily fully understand each word) a loud whisper from a minimum distance of five feet. 
  • THROAT & MOUTH AREA – Identifying potential physical conditions that could impair breathing. 
  • HEART – Standard checks for pressure, murmurs, unusual sounds. Commercial Driver’s License applicants must submit history regarding implanted defibrillator or pacemaker, etc. 
    • A Commercial Driver’s License applicant’s blood pressure must not be higher than 160/100. Note, though blood pressure can be controlled with hypertension medication. Those applicants with hypertensive measurements may receive a ME Certificate that requires the next DOT physical to happen in less than the standard of 24 months.  
  • LUNGS & CHEST – standard pulmonology tests including breathing rates and unusual breathing sounds.
  • INTERNAL ORGANS & THE ABDOMEN – Simple touch tests to determine that there are no enlarged organs, hernias, or pain. 
  • THE VASCULAR SYSTEM – The exam assesses the applicant’s blood flow to determine if there is a weak or an abnormal pulse. Are there any varicose veins?
  • THE URINARY SYSTEM – Determines the existence of hernias.
  • ARMS AND LEGS – Determines the strength and weakness of legs, arms, hands, and feet. Are there physical conditions that impair the Commercial Driver’s License applicant’s grip strength? 
  • SPINAL COLUMN & SKELETAL SYSTEM – Evaluates spinal movement, discomfort, or deformities
  • THE NERVOUS SYSTEM & THE BRAIN – Assesses the CDL applicant’s speech coordinate, balance and simply reflex tests.
  • Blood test, to check for high blood pressure or other medical conditions
  • Cannot have insulin-dependent diabetes; diabetes controlled through a diet or oral medication is permitted.
  • Blood sugar, upon reading at the Department of Transportation’s physical exam date. The blood pressure measurement may not exceed than 200.
  • Blood protein is tested.
  • Drug & Alcohol testing.
  • Urinalysis, as part of drug and alcohol testing.
  • Employers generally perform alcohol and drug testing during their pre-employment procedures. Scheduled-1 drugs are strictly prohibited.

The reality is that anyone applying or holds a Commercial Driver’s License must be ready to be tested randomly – for any reason, at any time. (49 CFR Part 382.)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has set forth special programs to accommodate interstate Commercial Motor Vehicle drivers in need of medical/physical exemptions due to physical impairments. Note, however, that the FMCSA does NOT have the statutory authority to award a medical or physical waiver for each state’s specific intrastate CDL requirements. 

A CDL applicant has the opportunity to seek an exemption for hearing, vision, diabetes or seizure conditions. The following Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations apply to these potential exemptions regarding your DOT physical -391.41(b)(3) and 391.41(b)(11), 391.41(b)(8) or 391(b)(10).  

There are certain instances when a Commercial Driver’s License applicant cannot meet the medical standards dictated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and thus, cannot obtain an approved ME Certificate. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration allows Commercial Driver’s License applicants to seek an exemption that then meets the requirements for a medical card.

The reality is, a DOT physical exemption can only be awarded should the exemption raise the level of safety beyond the level without the exemption. The FMCSA has half of one year to make an exemption decision. Each decision studies each case on its own merits. 



The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration offers a webinar video regarding the final rule outlined in September 2018 – The Qualifications of Drivers, Diabetes Standards (QDDS). The webinar on the diabetes exemption explains the new provisions regarding those diabetics who are insulin-dependent, among other topics. The FMCSA's video webinar also details the proper use of the recently revised Insulin-Treated Diabetes Mellitus Assessment Form, MCSA-5870.


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires those vying for a hearing exemption to submit the Federal Hearing Exemption form to be considered for an exemption regarding specific hearing issues. 

Check out the FMCSA’s Hearing Impairment Resources.


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires those vying for a vision exemption to submit the Federal Vision Exemption form to be considered for an exemption regarding specific hearing issues. 


Commercial drivers who possess a physical impairment, which may impact the ability to operate a Commercial Motor Vehicle with due-care and safely, must also obtain a waiver from their state that, issued their Commercial Driver’s License. When issued, this state-level variance must be carried with the commercial driver when driving a Commercial Motor Vehicle. 

One such type of variance offered is designed for those commercial drivers who request a physical impairment variance due to impairments that include a missing digit or limb. The SPE test allows CLDs to be evaluated with a functioning prosthetic. The program is known as the Skill Performance Evaluation Certificate Program – which grants, upon the successful completion of the exam, an SPE Certificate

If the driver passes the driving test, he or she will receive an SPE certificate. Over the years, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has granted more than 3,000 SPE certificates to truck drivers who have shown that they can drive safely on the nation's highways.

Follow this link to the Skill Performance Evaluation Certificate Application. As noted above, the SPE Certificate must be carried with the Commercial Driver’s License at all times. 



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