(Updates with comment from the American Trucking Associations in seventh paragraph.)
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Truckers with bad vision in one eye will be able to drive a big rig without having to go through a federal waiver process under a new standard set to go into effect in March.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a final rule Friday that would allow drivers whose worse eye doesn’t meet standards to still be qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce under certain conditions. Truckers who don’t have at least 20/40 vision in both eyes can currently only drive across state lines if they get an exemption from FMCSA.
The Transportation Department has increased its efforts to recruit and retain more drivers amid supply chain backups, but the vision change received mixed feedback as it was being reviewed by industry representatives and medical experts.
Under the rule change, a medical professional must evaluate a driver to determine if they have at least 20/40 vision in the other eye, have a field of vision of at least 70 degrees, and can recognize traffic signal colors. Motor carriers would also need to conduct a road test.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association had been advocating for the change. Jay Grimes, OOIDA’s director of federal affairs, said the change would alleviate long waiting times for truckers who meet the new standards, while still addressing safety concerns.
“The much anticipated final rule will eliminate red tape and help qualified, experienced monocular drivers stay in the industry,” Grimes said in the group’s media outlet. “Anyone currently exempted will no longer need to apply with FMCSA and can now be approved through their own vision specialist and certified medical examiner.”
The American Trucking Associations, the largest industry group, had urged some caution during the review process. It raised concerns about putting the responsibility for conducting pre-employment road tests on motor carriers, Dan Horvath, vice president of safety policy at ATA, said. But the agency responded to those concerns, Horvath said, and its group will work with companies “to ensure these changes do not have a negative impact on highway safety.”
The FMCSA Medical Review Board recommended that the agency change the current field of vision requirement to 120 degrees from 70 degrees. The FMCSA didn’t adopt that change. The rulemaking received pushback from some outside medical experts during the review period last year.
“As a criteria for safe driving, it is imperative to have acuity in vision and hearing to drive a multi-ton vehicle around innocent drivers and pedestrians on the road,” Xavier Cantu, a physician in Texas, wrote in March comments about the proposed change. “I will refuse to examine any drivers who fit the proposed loosened vision criteria for the sake of the driving public and as a personal liability concern.”
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