DOT (Department of Transportation) physicals

Being a commercial driver, you play an important part in your own safety as well as in public safety. The DOT physical is part of the requirements for getting and maintaining a commercial drivers license (CDL). The purpose of a DOT physical is to evaluate your mental, physical, and emotional fitness when it comes to operating a commercial vehicle.

Getting a DOT physical

Who is required to get a DOT physical?

The DOT physical requirement is determined by your employer, but you will likely need to have one done if you meet the following criteria:

  • You are paid to operate a vehicle that carries over eight people.
  • You operate a vehicle that carries over 15 people, such as a bus.
  • You operate a motor vehicle for commerce between states, and that vehicle has a gross combined weight of over 10,000 pounds.
  • You transport hazardous materials in a vehicle that requires a placard.

Man working using cellphone and laptop

How do you get a DOT physical?

You must pass all requirements in order to get your DOT health card.

There are three main steps to this process:

  1. Schedule your DOT exam appointment with a DOT medical examiner. Find a location to get your DOT certification from a UCHealth clinic today.
  2. Get your DOT physical examination. This includes a health history review, reviewing if you need to have immunizations, a physical exam captured in your Medical Examination Report, and a urinalysis (urine test) to assess your fitness and eligibility for a commercial driver’s license.
  3. Send off your report. When your exam is completed, your DOT physical form results will be sent to the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (NRCME), and if you pass all tests, you will shortly receive the Medical Examiner’s Certificate that is used to prove your eligibility as a commercial driver.

What do DOT physicals consist of?

During a DOT physical, a certified medical examiner (CME) will ask you questions about your health and medical history.

They will also perform a hands-on medical exam to check you are physically fit. This will include the following tests:

  • Blood pressure and pulse rate measurements. Your primary care provider will check your blood pressure and pulse, as well as check if you have an irregular heart rate (arrhythmia).
  • Drug testing. A drug test is not part of a DOT physical, but is required by the Department of Transportation. DOT drug testing is recommended to be done at the same time as your physical.
  • Hearing test to check for scarring or perforated eardrums, as well as to determine if you have hearing loss. During the hearing test, drivers must hear a “forced whisper” from 5 feet away without a hearing aid. To pass the hearing test, you must have hearing loss no greater than 40 decibels in your best ear.
  • Urinalysis (urine test). Your provider will obtain a sample of your urine to check the levels of protein, blood, and sugar in the sample to determine if you may have any underlying medical conditions.
  • Vision test to check for cataracts, glaucoma, or muscular degeneration. To pass a DOT physical vision test, you must have at least 20/40 vision in each eye (with or without corrective lenses), and 70 degree horizontal periphery (the visibility in your line of sight) in each eye.
  • Additional vitals testing to check your height and weight.

Your doctor will also evaluate certain regions of your body:

  • Heart for murmurs or a pacemaker.
  • Limbs to evaluate if any are impaired.
  • Lungs and chest for irregular breathing or impaired respiratory function.
  • Mouth and throat for breathing or swallowing challenges.
  • Spine and skeletal muscles to check your range of motion.

The exam takes about 45 minutes. If you meet the requirements to pass a DOT exam, your CME will issue a DOT medical card, also known as a medical examination report or a Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC). A valid MEC is used to keep and renew your commercial driver’s license.

A CDL medical card typically lasts 24 months. In some instances, your provider may issue the card for less than 24 months if you have a condition that needs to be monitored, such as high blood pressure.

Male patient listening to doctor

Questions and answers (FAQs) about DOT physicals

DOT physicals can be performed anywhere an FMCSA certified medical examiner practices.

On average, a DOT physical costs anywhere from $85 to $226, with some places charging as little as $50. UCHealth also offers many Occupational Medicine facilities to conduct your physical. Click the button at the top of this page to find UCHealth locations.

Note that DOT physicals are typically not covered by insurance, so you will need to pay out of pocket upon completion.

Your physical will be like other routine check-ups and annual evaluations. To prepare for your DOT physical exam, make sure you gather any required documents or forms. As a driver, you may need to bring the following:

  • Your valid driver’s license.
  • Employer authorization form.
  • List of any allergies you have.
  • List of your current medications.
  • List of your past surgeries or medical conditions.

It is possible to fail a DOT physical if you have one or more of the following conditions:

  • Alcoholism.
  • A nervous disease.
  • A psychiatric disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Epilepsy.
  • High blood pressure (exceeding 140/90 at the time of your physical).
  • Loss of an appendage (leg, arm, foot, or hand).
  • Lung or heart disease.
  • Poor eyesight that can’t be improved by corrective lenses like glasses or contacts.
  • Use of narcotics, amphetamines, or other drugs.

Exemptions

However, if you do fail your DOT physical, you are not disqualified from driving unless you fail without an exemption.

The FMCSA grants exemptions to certain conditions, granted the driver proves they are capable of operating a vehicle without posing a threat. Such exemptions are often granted to drivers with diabetes, hearing conditions, or high blood pressure.

Special Variance exemptions are also possible for drivers who may be missing a limb so long as their driving is not impaired by this.

You can learn more about the process of obtaining an exemption by talking to your doctor or employer, or by viewing the FMSCA’s exemption outline here.