Drivers Physicals and Annual Vehicle Inspections

Why your new Carrier won’t accept current unexpired documents.

April 2015

This post of The Transportation Scene will help you understand the reasoning why the carrier you are attempting to lease on with, or now wish to drive for, won’t accept your current DOT physical or current DOT Annual Vehicle Inspection even though they are not expired.  Why?  You (or the company you were driving for) paid good money for that DOT physical and the card says it is good for two years.  The vehicle inspection says it is good for one year.  These things cost money and take time and other expense to obtain.  This blog is somewhat lengthy but I hope you find it both educational and entertaining.

In the perfect world you are employed or contracted by a carrier when you get your DOT physical.  At that snapshot in time when you are being examined for that DOT physical, the examining physician is certifying that you meet all of the medical qualifications as required by the DOT or FMCSA.

The FMCSA regulations stipulate that drivers are physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if:

  • Has no loss of a foot, a leg, a hand, or an arm (or has been granted a skill performance evaluation certificate – see § 391.49);
  • Has no impairment of:
    • A hand or finger which interferes with prehension or power grasping; or
    • An arm, foot, or leg which interferes with the ability to perform normal tasks associated with operating a commercial motor vehicle; or any other significant limb defect or limitation which interferes with the ability to perform normal tasks associated with operating a commercial motor vehicle; or has been granted a skill performance evaluation certificate pursuant to § 391.49.
  • Has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of diabetes mellitus currently requiring insulin for control;
  • Has no current clinical diagnosis of myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, coronary insufficiency, thrombosis, or any other cardiovascular disease of a variety known to be accompanied by syncope, dyspnea, collapse, or congestive cardiac failure.
  • Has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his/her ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely;
  • Has no current clinical diagnosis of high blood pressure likely to interfere with his/her ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely;
  • Has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of rheumatic, arthritic, orthopedic, muscular, neuromuscular, or vascular disease which interferes with his/her ability to control and operate a commercial motor vehicle safely;
  • Has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of epilepsy or any other condition which is likely to cause loss of consciousness or any loss of ability to control a commercial motor vehicle;
  • Has no mental, nervous, organic, or functional disease or psychiatric disorder likely to interfere with his/her ability to drive a commercial motor vehicle safely;
  • Has distant visual acuity of at least 20/40 (Snellen) in each eye without corrective lenses or visual acuity separately corrected to 20/40 (Snellen) or better with corrective lenses, distant binocular acuity of at least 20/40 (Snellen) in both eyes with or without corrective lenses, field of vision of at least 70° in the horizontal Meridian in each eye, and the ability to recognize the colors of traffic signals and devices showing standard red, green, and amber;
  • First perceives a forced whispered voice in the better ear at not less than 5 feet with or without the use of a hearing aid or, if tested by use of an audiometric device, does not have an average hearing loss in the better ear greater than 40 decibels at 500 Hz, 1,000 Hz, and 2,000 Hz with or without a hearing aid when the audiometric device is calibrated to American National Standard (formerly ASA Standard) Z24.5—1951.
  • Does not use any drug or substance identified in 21 CFR 1308.11 Schedule I, an amphetamine, a narcotic, or other habit-forming drug.
  • Does not use any non-Schedule I drug or substance that is identified in the other Schedules in 21 part 1308 except when the use is prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner, as defined in § 382.107, who is familiar with the driver’s medical history and has advised the driver that the substance will not adversely affect the driver’s ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle.
  • Has no current clinical diagnosis of alcoholism.

You could also obtain from FMCSA a medical variance from the physical qualification standards listed above.

Sorry to put you through the agony of actually reading some of the DOT regulations, but it is important for you to understand what the doctor (or medical examiner) is certifying at the time of the physical.  Wow – that was a lot!  Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers have many medical conditions or issues to concern themselves with just to pass a DOT physical.

On with our fictional scenario.  Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read could be true. The names could have been changed to protect the innocent.  Actually, all names in the story are fictitious – this is not Dragnet.

Iamma Driver, a CMV driver (owner-operator), obtained his DOT physical at the expense of his then future employer Quicky Expedite on January 1, 2014.  He also was issued a new Annual Vehicle Inspection by a certified inspector at the same time in January.  About June 3, 2014, after working for Quicky for six months, Iamma was upset that the folks at Quicky were working him too hard and decided he needed a break.  Iamma called into his dispatch stating he would be taking an extended break and will call when he is ready to return to work.  Iamma proceeded to deadhead home to Sweetheaven where he lived.  While reroute home a deer ran out in front of Iamma’s truck causing him to run over three street signs and a fire hydrant.  The deer caused significant damage to the body of the vehicle while running over the signs and hydrant destroyed his brake lines and other critical vehicle components.  He limped the vehicle home to the local garage which was operated by shady gas monkeys.  The monkeys agreed to jury rig the repairs for a cheap price.  They said the three weeks of normal repairs would take them only one week to complete.

Immediately upon arriving home Iamma began to drink alcohol to help him relax.  He drank for the whole first week since the monkeys were working on his truck.  In fact, he drank continuously for two weeks straight.  On the 14th day Iamma fell down the steps to his basement at his home striking his head.  Dazed, confused and hurt, Iamma struggled to get to his feet.  He reached for the closest object – the legs of his trusty table saw.  Using those saw legs he pulled himself to his feet and inadvertently hit the power button on the saw.  He felt a sharp pain which was the saw removing a good portion of his little finger.  Iamma’s wife Wilma took him to the emergency room where he was treated for the permanent partial amputation and given some narcotic medication for pain.   The pain was so unbearable that Iamma continued to drink even while taking the pain medication and remained at home for another month into August while his pinky healed.  When his prescription for the pain medication expired he was no longer able to obtain the drugs he had now become used to having.  He found himself purchasing prescription drugs along with other illegal drugs from his neighborhood drug dealer.   Iamma had become dependent on drugs and alcohol and was on a binge.

Soon after, the staff at Quicky Expedite sent a letter to Iamma informing him that his services and the services of his truck were no longer needed.  His lease was being terminated because he had been out of service for more than 45 days.  Iamma became seriously depressed and spent the next month taking more illegal drugs, drinking alcohol and eating Bon-Bons.  He laid around and did nothing but get buzzed, watch TV and eat more Bon-Bons.  He gained 120 pounds in a very short period of time and also developed high blood pressure from the recent weight gain.  He was experiencing occasional loss of consciousness and blackouts from unknown concussion he sustained when he fell down the basement steps.  Every once in a while his vision and hearing would also be severely affected from that concussion.  Iamma then suffered what appeared to be a heart attack, was rushed to the hospital, was treated by attending hospital doctors and had heart surgery performed by hospital surgeons.  The attending hospital physicians also discovered that Iamma had developed diabetes for which they prescribed oral medications.  The surgeons also recommended that Iamma refrain from consuming Bon-Bons.  He was soon released and willowy Wilma, the understanding trucker’s wife, took him home.  She lovingly nursed Iamma back to health while keeping him away from the alcohol, drugs, the neighborhood drug dealer and Bon-Bons.

The hospital doctors and surgeons had no knowledge of  DOT regulations.   They had no obligation or knowledge to contact Doctor Pazzaglia, the Medical Examiner at  the clinic which performed Iamma’s DOT physical earlier that year.  They also had no knowledge or obligation to contact Quicky Expedite.   Heck, the hospital doctors did not even know that Iamma was a truck driver.  The hospital doctors only had medical records from Iamma’s family doctor – Dr. Don Duck.  Thank goodness for Dr. Duck – he prescribed blood pressure medications and anti-depressants to Iamma.

It was now mid-October. The Drivers had fallen three months behind on all of their household expenses.  Iamma and Wilma agreed that it was time for Iamma to return to his beloved profession – truck driving – and bring the household finances back in order.  Iamma climbed in his car and attempted to drive to Quicky Expedite to ask if he could again lease his vehicle and services to them.  He could barely maintain a grip on the steering wheel in his car due to the loss of a portion of his pinky finger.  Mike Mean, the safety director at Quicky, informed Iamma that he would have to complete a new application listing his employment history since he left Quicky and obtain a new physical, pre-employment drug screen and a new Annual Vehicle Inspection before sitting through the complete Quicky orientation again to requalify with the company.  Mr. Mean did not notice the partial pinky finger amputation and knew nothing that had happened to Iamma while he was off.  Iamma decided it was not worth all the “headache” to sign back on with Quicky.  Besides his physical and vehicle inspection was still “good”.  He knew that he had kicked his habit for the narcotics and could pass a DOT pre-employment drug screen. Being a CMV driver he also knew he could find a carrier, any carrier, to accept him and his vehicle without new certifications.

Iamma went home and began to search for a new carrier.  He discovered that all the reputable member carriers advertising on the site required new physicals, drug screen and annual vehicle inspections from their prospective contractors.   Iamma decided to visit the local truck stop and talk to other drivers to see if there were any companies that would accept him and his vehicle.  A driver at the truck stop said he was running for Adam’s Expedite and he didn’t have to get a new physical or annual vehicle inspection to sign on.  Iamma contacted the new company and was immediately contracted and began running their freight.

While on his third run for the new company Iamma experienced severe vision problems, a loss of his hearing and a severe migraine. He attempted to pull his vehicle to the side of the road but winced as he had a sudden phantom pain in what was his little pinky.  The steering and brakes on his truck ceased to operate.  Iamma blacked out.  When Iamma awoke he was in the hospital and discovered he had been in an accident.  He learned that several occupants of the other vehicle were severely injured.

Not long after the accident Adam’s Expedite and Iamma received legal documents from their state process agent.  The documents were from an attorney representing the injured parties and were seeking compensation for damages along with punitive damages exceeding $25,000.  The case went to trial which continued for three years.  In the course of the trial Adam’s expedite provided a copy of the wallet card of Iamma’s physical and a copy of his Annual Vehicle Inspection.  They even showed proof that they had contacted Quicky Expedite with a Previous Employment Verification on Iamma.  The PEV showed that Iamma operated a CMV for Quicky from the period of January 2014 through June 2014 and that he had no DOT reportable accidents and no positive drug or alcohol testing.    Judgement to the plaintiffs was $750,000 for medical and lost wage expenses to the injured parties.  The company insuring Adam’s Expedite paid the medical and lost wages award.  Punitive damages of $1,000,000 were awarded to each of the three plaintiffs injured in the accident.  The punitive damages were awarded for negligence as plaintiff’s bar was easily able to prove that the company was negligent when contracting Iamma.  The plaintiff attorney had no problem discovering Iamma’s medical issues and subpoenaed those medical records as evidence in the case.   The attorney proved that Iamma was not medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle, and also that the CMV that he was operating at the time of the accident had not been properly maintained.  Since insurance does not cover punitive damages the plaintiffs original sought payment of their punitive award from the assets of Adam’s Expedite since the Drivers (Iamma and Wilma) had no assets.   Adam’s Expedite closed its doors shortly after leaving its 15 employees and 55 contractors without jobs or work.  The court decision actually affected 70 families or about 250 people and the income on which they depended.  The owner of Adam’s Expedite fled the country to the Great North leaving Iamma and Wilma a lifetime of debt to the plaintiffs.  He was a true hoser, eh?

The regulations regarding the expiration dates of physicals and Annual Vehicle Inspections are written with the understanding that you would still be employed by or contracted to the same carrier, and that carrier would have knowledge of all the medical issues (both physically and mentally) of any particular driver throughout the period a DOT physical is valid.  The carrier would also have knowledge of any accidents or mechanical deficiencies of the vehicles under their control while the Annual Vehicle Inspection is valid.  Most carriers will correctly “cover their bases” to ensure a driver is physically qualified and a vehicle is inspected and certified mechanically.

Granted the story of Iamma’s bad luck is exaggerated but any single one of the medical conditions he experienced could have made him medically disqualified as a CMV driver.  Negligence could have been proven with just one of the medical issues discovered – let alone numerous as mentioned in the story.  You should now see why carriers would like to have a DOT physical performed by a doctor familiar with the carrier on all drivers.  Also be aware that carrier hiring criteria can also be influenced by other outside factors such as the carriers ability to obtain insurance coverages and other reasons.


Disclaimer: This blog is NOT intended to give legal advice, nor be a substitute for any training required by the Regulations.


Till the next blog, Thank  you Transportation Professionals for all you do!. Please be safe!

©John Mueller, CDS, CDT, COSS