Commercial driver undergoing a DOT physical.

A DOT Physical: What Is It Exactly?

A DOT physical is a specific type of physical examination required by the Department of Transportation (DOT). It is performed for individuals whose jobs are considered “safety sensitive,” meaning that their duties not only affect them but also the health of the general public.

A DOT physical is required by the guidelines spelled out by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These guidelines ensure that commercial motor vehicle drivers, along with other workers whose jobs are safety sensitive, are in good health and can perform without endangering themselves or others.

How Do I Prepare for My DOT Physical Exam?

People preparing for a DOT physical should bring a list of their regular medications, including over-the-counter medications, along with a list of their doctors (and those doctors’ addresses).

If you have pre-existing medical conditions, then be prepared to also bring along additional pieces of information. For example, if you have vision problems or hearing loss, then bring your glasses and/or hearing aids. If you are diabetic, have your most recent lab results from your Hemoglobin A1C (HgA1C) plus blood sugar logs.

DOT Physical Form

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires that all commercial drivers maintain a current Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC), known as Form MCSA-5876.

Drivers are required to fill out the medical history portion of the Medical Examination Report Form, known as Form MCSA-5875, prior to their physical examination. This form is broken into several sections that ask for information about your medical history and current medical conditions.

What Does The DOT Physical Consist Of?

You will be asked to provide your full name, address, and date of birth. Your blood pressure will be measured, and you may also have your pulse rate and temperature taken. During the DOT medical exam, expect the physical examination to cover the following categories:

  • General appearance of the patient
  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Lungs
  • Genito-Urinary (hernias)
  • Vascular
  • Heart (which may include an electrocardiogram)
  • Neurological (epilepsy, ataxia, equilibrium and coordination)
  • Muscular and Skeletal

Vision Test

If you wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, they will need to be removed so that the doctor can conduct a vision test without them. You will be asked to read a standard eye chart, known as a Snellen chart.

The doctor may also shine light into your eyes to see if any cloudiness or vision problems are present.

Hearing Test

In accordance with DOT physical requirements, the examinee must be able to detect a “forced whisper” from a distance of within five feet, either with or without a hearing aid. This is the equivalent of approximately 40 decibels.

The doctor will examine how well your joints move by conducting range-of-motion exercises. This assessment helps to determine whether or not there are any physical limitations that could affect safe driving.

The reflexes test measures how quickly a person reacts when something touches their skin or muscles; this is important because reflexes help control muscle movement. Reflexes tend to decrease naturally over time as we age—which can affect our ability to drive safely—so some drivers who are older than 65 may need additional testing.

During this portion of the exam, doctors will also check for physical defects or abnormalities that could make it difficult to use hand controls while operating a vehicle under normal conditions.

Pre-Employment Alcohol and Drug Testing

Pre-employment alcohol and drug testing is an important part of the DOT physical. All applicants for a commercial driver’s license must pass pre-employment drug tests. The test can be administered as a urine or saliva test, depending on the employer’s preference. Most employers use urine tests because they are less expensive than saliva tests and provide more accurate results.

The test will check for drugs like marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and opiates; however it does not detect alcohol intoxication or dependency (but it will detect withdrawal symptoms).

Urine Collection, Alcohol and Drug Tests

Drug and alcohol tests are common during DOT physical exams because they are used to determine whether or not you are fit for duty on any given day.

As part of your DOT physical exam, you’ll be asked to provide a urine sample. This can be done in two ways: by providing a sample directly from your body or by providing one that has been collected and saved for testing.

The urine sample drug test is different from a urinalysis. A urinalysis is performed to check for certain underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, or kidney disease. If an urinalysis abnormality is detected in the urine, further tests are required for a specific diagnosis.

Do I Need a DOT Physical?

DOT physicals are considered standard procedure for drivers seeking a CDL. Drivers who will be transporting hazardous materials or operating motor vehicles that carry a certain number of passengers, or vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds (5 tons), are required to have a DOT physical.

A medical certificate (or a laminated medical card) is provided to you upon successful completion of the DOT physical, which is valid for two years. If you have underlying health conditions that are receiving treatment, you may be required to have an annual or quarterly DOT physical, as required by your employer. (Examples of these possible conditions include high blood pressure or heart disease.)

DOT Physical: Safety is Key

A DOT physical consists of all the testing necessary for safety: not just for the safety of truck drivers, but for the safety of everyone who shares the road with them! If you’ve ever had a regular checkup at your primary care provider, then you’re familiar with most of the procedures that take place at a DOT physical.

When you need to schedule your DOT physical, visit the FMCSA-certified medical examiners at Meridian HealthCare. We perform your physical as well as any associated drug testing, so you don’t have to waste time going multiple places. Reach out to Meridian HealthCare today!