FMCSA Grants Exemptions to Hearing-Impaired Drivers

Forty individuals received permission to operate commercial vehicles in interstate commerce effective last Friday. It's good for two years and may be renewed.

The request was made of the agency last May, with comments taken until the end of July. FMCSA received 570 responses.

Several of the applicants had previous experience driving interstate and became unable to pass the required hearing test, while others had been involved in intrastate commerce, were bus drivers, had driven smaller commercial vehicles or were looking to be first-time truckers.

In announcing its decision, the FMCSA said “that granting exemptions for these CMV [commercial motor vehicle] drivers will provide a level of safety that is equivalent to or greater than the level of safety maintained without the exemptions.”

Current FMCSA standards for hearing were adopted more than 40 years ago.

The applicants received assistance from the National Association of the Deaf. The association cited an FMCSA Medical Review Board study from 2008 that examined the relationship between hearing loss and crash risk exclusively among CMV drivers, as well as evidence from studies of the private driver license holder population, saying these studies do not support the contention that individuals with hearing impairment are at an increased risk for a crash.

In addition, the agency reviewed the applicants’ driving records. While it acknowledges there could be potential consequences of a driver being hearing impaired and/or deaf while operating a CMV under some scenarios, FMCSA said it believes the drivers covered by the exemptions do not pose a risk to public safety.

The NAD also maintained that communication in trucking is no longer hampered by hearing loss because drivers increasingly rely on smartphones and other technology to communicate with dispatch. The NAD conducted over 100 hours of interviews with individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing and reports that deaf drivers face fewer distractions behind the wheel.

While most of the comments to the proposal supported granting the exemptions, including the American Trucking Associations, The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said it did not believe there was enough study evidence to support granting the exemptions and FMCSA should revise hearing standards rather than granting what it called “ad hoc exemptions.”

By Evan Lockridge, Senior Contributing Editor TOPNEWS