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DOT Physicals: Understanding Medical Variances
4 mins read

As we’ve discussed in previous blog articles about the DOT physical process, drivers must undergo a full physical exam at least once every two years to ensure there are medically fit enough to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

As long as a driver passes the exam, he is approved for a medical card and sent on his way. But when a medical condition pops up, the process can become slightly more complicated – especially when the driver doesn’t meet the minimum physical standards set by the FMCSA for CMV drivers. Whether caused by hearing problems or a missing limb, these drivers will have to obtain a variance if they’re to drive commercially.

What is a Variance?

A variance is an exemption granted by the FMCSA for drivers with certain medical conditions. The variance allows them to continue driving commercially as long as their variance is kept current. It must be kept in the driver qualification file with their medical certificate. The driver must also have a copy of the variance on him whenever he’s on duty.

What Types of Variances are Available?

Variances are available for a variety of medical conditions, including vision and hearing issues, diabetes, epilepsy and missing/impaired limbs. Depending on your medical condition, you’ll need to go through a different process of obtaining a variance. In general, you must provide information about your professional driving experience, driving record and medical condition. Here are a few links to information about some common exemption applications:

General Vision Exemption Package

Diabetes Exemption Application

Hearing Exemption Application

What is a Skill Performance Evaluation?

A Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) is a special type of variance that is required for anyone with missing/impaired limbs who wants to driver a commercial motor vehicle. To apply for a variance, you’ll need to submit a letter to the FMCSA, along with documentation of the following:

  • Results from your DOT physical
  • A copy of your medical certificate
  • A medical evaluation summary
  • A copy of the driver’s road test
  • An application for employment
  • A three-year history of the driver’s State Motor Vehicle Driver Record

The FMCSA provides a detailed instructional document that outlines all of the information that must be contained in the letter, as well as all of the accompanying documents that must be included with the application. You can download the SPE package by clicking here.

Have questions about variances or the DOT physical process? Leave them in the comments below!

Links to Related Articles in This Series:

The DOT Physical: Everything You Need to Know 

DOT Physicals: Can Chiropractors and Other Doctors do DOT Physicals?

DOT Physicals: Vision Requirements for the Eye Exam      

DOT Physicals: Can You Pass with a High BMI or While Overweight? 

DOT Physicals: Can I Get a DOT Physical in Any State? 

DOT Physicals: Can You Pass with a Hernia? 

DOT Physicals: Will I Pass with Diabetes? 

DOT Physical Blood Pressure: Requirements & Tips for Passing 

DOT Physicals: Can I Pass With Sleep Apnea? 

DOT Physicals: What if I have a Medical Condition? 

DOT Physicals: Do They Include a Drug Test? 

How to Prepare for Your DOT Physical? 

DOT Physicals: What Happens When You Fail? 

Fail a DOT Physical? You Have a Right to a Second Opinion 

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