Whether you’re a veteran truck driver or a newcomer, every 24 months you will need to prepare for the DOT physical exam to ensure that you are in stable physical and mental condition. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires this examination of all professional drivers to ensure drivers and others on the road are safe. In this article, we walk you through how to prepare for the DOT physical exam so that you’re ready to safely hit the open road.
What Is a DOT physical exam?
Before you can prepare for the DOT physical exam, you first need to understand what procedures take place and why it’s important to undergo the examination. If you professionally drive a truck, you are under obligation by federal law to receive a DOT physical examination by a qualified examiner. A qualified examiner can be a doctor, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner. Luckily, there are over 40,000 certified DOT Medical Examiners in the United States, so finding a doctor close by should be easy.
The exam typically begins by reviewing your medical history and listing the medications you take on a daily or regular basis. The examiner will also do the following:
- Check your vision to make sure you have 20/40 vision in each eye, a requirement of all professional drivers
- Check your mouth and throat to ensure there are no blockages
- Check for hernias
- Check your blood pressure and your pulse
- Examine your spine for deformities
- Perform a heart examination by listening to your heart for murmurs
- Listen to your lungs to check for impaired respiratory function
- Perform a neurological examination to make sure you do not have an neurological issues and that coordination and reflexes are not impaired
- Examine your ears, particularly your ability to hear a loud whisper from at least five feet away
- Press on your abdomen to check for bumps or other abnormalities
- Perform urinalysis to check for any underlying medical conditions
If you pass this examination with flying colors, your examiner will issue you a medical certificate that is valid for two years. Keep in mind that you might require periodic check-ins with an examiner, depending on the results of your DOT physical.
Reasons Why It’s Important to Get a DOT physical exam
As a truck driver, you’re on the road in a massive vehicle for most of the day and for most days of the year. Staying safe on the road is of utmost importance, which is why the following need to be especially taken into account when you prepare for the DOT physical exam.
1. Vision Testing
The DOT requires that all drivers’ vision is in good condition, meaning that drivers are required to have 20/40 vision with or without using corrective lenses. Drivers must have 20/40 vision in both eyes or at least 20/40 with either the right eye or the left eye.
Why it’s important: As a driver on the open road, it’s important to see all things clearly to avoid accidents.
2. Drug Testing
Drug tests are performed to make sure drivers do not use addictive substances that can compromise their safety or the safety of others while they are operating their vehicle. Truck drivers often have long days, which is why the test screens for cocaine, amphetamines, opioids, marijuana, PCP, and other related substances.
Why it’s important: Keeping your senses sharp on the road is important, but the most sustainable way to do so is with a good night of sleep and a cup of coffee.
3. Hearing Testing
Having a sharp sense of hearing is important for knowing what is around you that you might not be able to see. Being able to hear a loud whisper without hearing aids in both ears from at least five feet away is required to pass the DOT physical exam. However, you can still pass the physical with a hearing in one ear as long as you can hear the whisper in the other.
Why it’s important: Being able to hear approaching cars and emergency vehicles allows you to make the proper decisions in a timely manner.
4. Brain and Neurological Screening
Though this procedure tests you on coordination and reflexes, it is mainly used to identify any potential brain injuries and neurological disorders. All examinations test for epilepsy and seizures. In nearly all cases, those diagnosed with epilepsy or who have a history of seizures will not be able to pass the exam, even if the seizures can be controlled.
Why it’s important: A seizure completely incapacitates the person experiencing it, and if they are driving when this event occurs the result can be incredibly dangerous and even fatal.
5. Cardiovascular Screening
Studies find that truck drivers are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease due to the high demands of the job, which is why this is one of the most important steps in the examination process. Blood pressure readings are taken to assess the risk for heart related incidents. Drivers need to bring a letter from their cardiologist and a list of their heart medications to their DOT physical.
Why it’s important: Though truck drivers might be at risk with this disease, it’s important that drivers get enough sleep and exercise and make sure they have a well-balanced, healthy diet.
Tips to Prepare for the DOT Physical Exam
Although some of what you are tested on in the exam are things you cannot help, there are ways to prepare for the DOT physical exam.
- Avoid coffee and energy drinks 24 hours before the physical. The caffeine in these drinks can raise your blood pressure and mistakenly indicate to the examiner that you might have heart-related issues.
- Avoid consuming salt during the week leading up to the exam. Similar to caffeine, salt can make it seem like you have high blood pressure and send the wrong results to the examiner.
- Bring all necessary materials. This includes medications, medical paperwork, glasses, and a full bladder for the drug test.
- Eat a light meal. By avoiding a large meal before the exam, your sugar levels will stay how they naturally register, which avoids warning signs of diabetes.
- Center yourself. Some people experience what is commonly referred to as “White Coat Syndrome,” which is a fear of being in a doctor’s office. The stressor can raise your blood pressure. Make sure to do some heavy breathing or an activity that calms you before the physical begins.
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