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  • Writer's pictureARI Media

FMCSA proposes eliminating vision exemptions for drivers

Federal regulators want to amend driver qualifications to allow those with vision loss in one eye to be deemed qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) without having to apply for an exemption.

In a notice of proposed rulemaking scheduled to be published on Tuesday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is seeking an alternate vision standard that would replace the current exemption program as a basis for establishing vision qualifications.

“It is well recognized in the literature that individuals with vision loss in one eye can and do develop compensatory viewing behavior to mitigate the vision loss,” according to FMCSA.

“Therefore, if an individual meets the proposed vision standard, the agency expects there will be no adverse impact on safety due to the individual’s vision. That is, once an individual’s vision is stable and the individual has adapted to and compensated for the change in vision, the loss in vision is not likely to play a significant role in whether the individual can drive a CMV safely.”

Instead of requiring three years of driving experience with the vision deficiency within a state – which is the case under the current exemption program – individuals who qualify under the proposed alternate vision standard would complete a road test, conducted by the carrier, before operating in interstate commerce. Drivers would be excepted from the road test requirement if they have three years of intrastate or excepted interstate CMV driving experience with the vision deficiency, hold a valid federal vision exemption or are medically certified, according to FMCSA.

“FMCSA finds that a road test would be an appropriate indicator of an individual’s ability to operate a CMV safely with the vision deficiency,” the agency stated.

The FMCSA’s proposal would put a medical examiner in charge of determining drivers’ physical qualifications, instead of FMCSA as is the case in the current exemption program. To qualify under the alternative standard the driver must:

  1. Have distant visual acuity of at least 20/40 in the better eye, with or without corrective lenses, and field of vision of at least 70 degrees in the horizontal meridian.

  2. Be able to recognize the colors of traffic signals and devices showing standard red, green and amber.

  3. Have a stable vision deficiency.

  4. Have had sufficient time to adapt to and compensate for the change in vision.

If FMCSA’s alternative program is adopted, 2,566 current vision exemption holders would no longer require an exemption, according to the agency.

The change could also “increase employment opportunities because potential applicants who do not have three years of intrastate driving experience may meet the alternative vision standard and be able to operate a CMV in interstate commerce,” FMCSA stated. “In addition, previously qualified interstate CMV drivers who are no longer able to meet either the distant visual acuity or field of vision standard, or both, in one eye would be able to return to operating in interstate commerce sooner.”

FMCSA estimated that the proposed rule would save the agency approximately $1.6 million annually by eliminating the need for the federal vision exemption program.

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