Last month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a final rule eliminating the exemption program used by drivers who can’t meet the vision acuity standards. Beginning March 22, 2022, drivers who don’t meet the standard can obtain a med card by being evaluated by an optometrist or ophthalmologist who will discern if the driver meets an alternative (less stringent) standard. If they do, their medical examiner can issue a med card for up to 12 months. Unfortunately, if it’s the first time the driver has relied on the alternative standard, the motor carrier must conduct a road test on the driver to confirm they can safely operate a commercial motor vehicle.

Under the old rules, if a driver couldn’t meet minimum vision standards, their only remedy was to write to FMCSA and request a five-year exemption allowing them to drive in interstate commerce. Currently, there are nearly 2,000 drivers operating under these exemptions. The proliferation of these exemptions led to criticism that the vision standards should be updated to reflect the criteria FMCSA was applying when granting the exemptions.

FMCSA’s response has left some in the industry wondering how to comply, however. That’s because there’s no reliable way to discern whether the driver relied on the alternative standard. STC queried the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for tips on how to best comply. We were advised that clues to whether a road test is required may lie in the previous employer inquiry because the rules provide an exception to the road test requirement for drivers who have been operating with the vision deficiency for at least three years. Also, in some cases, the MVR may indicate if the driver was qualified under the exemption program, which also exempt the driver from the road test requirement.

Otherwise, for drivers whose medical card is issued for 12 months or less, carriers should specifically inquire whether the driver relied on the alternative standard to obtain their medical card. If the answer is yes, and this was the first time they’ve been qualified using the new rules, a road test is required. Unfortunately, the use of alternative standard will not be specifically noted on the MVR or the med card, meaning carriers will need to develop new protocols to ensure compliance. While STC appreciates the move by FMCSA to update its regulations, there likely will be some hiccups implementing this in the industry.