New vision standards will relax previous requirements mandating that truckers with inadequate vision in one eye must seek an exemption from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The agency announced the new rule late last month, which will now allow commercial drivers “who do not satisfy, with the worse eye, either the existing distant visual acuity standard with corrective lenses or the field of vision standard, or both, to be physically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce under specific conditions.”
The updated regulation now “enhances employment opportunities while remaining consistent with FMCSA’s safety mission,” the agency added. The new rule will be fully implemented on March 22nd.
“With limited exceptions, individuals physically qualified under the alternative standard for the first time must satisfactorily complete a road test administered by the employing motor carrier before operating a CMV in interstate commerce,” said FMCSA in a federal register post. “This rule eliminates the need for the current federal vision exemption program, as well as the grandfather provision for drivers operating under the previously-administered vision waiver study program.”
The updated standard–which has been changed for the first time since 1998–will bring about a more “collaborative process” to allow a driver to obtain verification; a driver must have a complete optometrist- or ophthalmologist-conducted vision evaluation before he or she can become medically certified under the new standard. Additionally, the doctor must record the evaluation results and offer professional opinions regarding an agency Vision Evaluation Report. Currently, nearly 2,000 truck drivers hold vision exemptions under the previous standards.
The ophthalmologist or optometrist recording these report findings may then offer a driver up to 12 months of a certification period if the driver is found to meet FMCSA’s physical qualification standards and the new vision standard. The driver will need to be evaluated again each subsequent year for renewed qualification.
To make these determinations, examiners are required to take into account the entire Vision Evaluation Report and apply four particular standards using his or her own medical judgment. These standards include that the driver has a stable vision deficiency; has had enough time since the deficiency became stable to adapt to the vision changes; can recognize traffic signal and device colors and see the differences between red, green, and amber; and have a distant visual acuity of at least 20/40 in his or her stronger eye, with or without corrective lenses, as well as a field of vision that is of at least 70 degrees in the horizontal meridian.
FMCSA is seeking public comment on this final rule by February 22nd, and received 69 comments on the proposed rulemaking notice in 2021. These comments came from drivers, motor carriers, private citizens, healthcare providers, and trade associations. 45 of these comments showed support for the potential regulation change.
“Common reasons cited for supporting the proposal include the following: The evidence shows monocular drivers are safe and have no adverse impact on safety; the rule would remove barriers to entry, create job opportunities, encourage more individuals to enter the workforce, keep experienced drivers and reduce the driver shortage,” said the agency.
Should any safety concern arise from the new rule, FMCSA has claimed that its most prominent counter-argument is that monocular drivers have had no major issues in recent years.
“This could lead one to conclude drivers with monocular vision are as safe as other drivers,” the agency noted. “We remind readers that the data is either absent or conflicting regarding the safety of monocular drivers. With such a small percentage of drivers having monocular vision, this data will continue to be difficult to obtain in a statistically-significant manner.”
FMCSA’s medical review board approved the rule update last year, although it recommended that the policy’s field of vision standard require commercial drivers to have a field of vision of at least 120 degrees.