Can You Get A CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) With A Disability?

Dr Handicap - commercial drivers license

Thinking about working as a commercial truck driver? You’ll need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) for that. CDLs are required when operating large, heavy, or hazardous materials in a commercial capacity. The regulations surrounding this type of license do vary from state to state, but can you get a commercial driver’s license with a disability? The answer depends on a number of different factors. Keep reading to find out the restrictions around getting a CDL with a disability.

What is a CDL?

A CDL in the US can be divided into three classes:

  • Class A: Any combination of vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating/Gross Vehicle Weight of 26,001 or more pounds (if the Gross Vehicle Weight of the vehicle being towed is more than 10,000 pounds). Class A licensees can operate any commercial motor vehicle in Classes B and C with the necessary endorsements.
  • Class B: Any single vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating/Gross Vehicle Weight of 26,001 or more pounds (if the Gross Vehicle Weight of the vehicle being towed is more than 10,000 pounds). Class B license holders can operate any commercial motor vehicle included in Class C with the proper endorsements.
  • Class C: Any single or combination of vehicles that do not meet the definition of Class A or B but is designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver), or is required to be placarded for hazardous materials.

In order to receive a CDL for these purposes, you must participate in some form of training, although specific prerequisites vary by state. For example, Ohio requires 160 hours of classroom and on-the-road training. This training is typically received through DMV-approved truck driving schools and includes education on how to properly and safely operate these types of vehicles, along with training in:

  • Map reading
  • Trip planning
  • Complying with US Department of Transportation (DOT) laws
  • Coping with emergency situations

In addition to the required training, CDL hopefuls in the US must also pass a written test on highway safety and definitions of truck parts (usually about 30 questions per test). To pass, drivers must get at least 80% of the questions right. Then, there’s also an on-the-road driving skills test that tests whether individuals are able to successfully complete specific driving maneuvers. Some states also add additional testing requirements in order for you to get a CDL.

Dr Handicap - commercial driver

Image by Will Kirk on Unsplash: Behind-the-wheel training is part of the CDL application process.

What is a DOT physical?

A DOT physical is a medical exam mandated by the Department of Transportation that must take place in order for you to be eligible for a CDL. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets the regulations for what these exams consist of. The test assesses your general health, along with your mental and emotional fitness, since this could be impacted by the demands of professional commercial driving.

The exam must be conducted by a medical professional on the FMCSA National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (only these individuals can issue a valid medical certification). During the exam, they’ll test your blood pressure, vision, hearing, and do a urinalysis for glucose levels and a drug screening. They’ll also go over your complete medical history with you.

What disqualifies a DOT physical?

It’s possible for you to fail a DOT physical if the medical examiner believes your medical condition (or your use of a medication or substance) would compromise your ability to drive safely. These conditions can include anything that could lead to a loss of consciousness, hearing or vision issues, a compromised immune system, or physical limitations that make driving difficult.

Here are a few more examples of conditions that might disqualify you for a CDL:

  • Some heart conditions: Such as heart attack, coronary insufficiency, risk of blood clots, etc.
  • Epilepsy or other seizures: Anything that can cause loss of consciousness (though it’s possible for drivers to show their seizures are under control and potentially receive a FMCSA seizure exemption so that they can get their CDL).
  • Inner ear disease or disorders that cause vertigo or balance issues: Drivers can possibly seek re-certification if they’ve gone a particular amount of time with no symptoms.
  • Use of marijuana (for medical or recreational purposes): This can also include CBD oil or hemp, as well as any illegal drugs such as heroin, LSD, MDMA, mushrooms, etc.
Dr Handicap - doctor

Image by StockSnap on Pixabay: You’ll need to complete a physical exam by a medical professional to qualify for a CDL.

Some medical examiners will allow applicants to pass the DOT physical if they have diabetes but are on a stable insulin regimen and have properly controlled their symptoms. Individuals will be expected to provide logs of their glucose levels that demonstrate their symptoms are being successfully managed over a specified length of time. Drivers with high blood pressure can also receive special dispensation, as long as their blood pressure is below Stage 3 (higher than 180 systolic and/or higher than 120 diastolic pressure). Anything above that is considered a hypertensive diagnosis and disqualifies them from a CDL.

Wondering what disqualifies you from getting a CDL? Any of the above-mentioned conditions will do so, along with any others that weren’t listed but that might still impact your ability to be a safe driver.

Can a disabled person get a CDL?

If you’re able to pass the DOT physical, you can get your CDL. If you don’t pass the physical, there are opportunities for you to seek re-certification in the future, which many people do when their health is better managed. Even if you have a disability, if you’ve passed the physical, passed the written and on-the-road driving tests, and completed the required training for your state, you can receive your CDL.

If you’ve been unsure how to get a CDL with a disability, start by researching the specific requirements in your state and talk to your doctor about whether they think you’re eligible to apply for a CDL.

Featured image by Rgaudet17 on Pixabay