What is a DOT physical?

By John Hawes | Last updated: January 17, 2019

A DOT physical is a medical evaluation required through the Department of Transportation (DOT) for all commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers. It is a physical examination that is taken in order to obtain a medical certificate. The medical certificate confirms the driver has passed the health requirements for driving a CMV. This is part of an overarching goal to keep the nation's roads safe.

The DOT physical exam must be carried out by a licensed medical examiner. This must be a person listed on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) registry and could include professionals such as medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, advanced practice nurses, physician assistants and doctors of chiropractic.

As part of the DOT physical, the driver's personal details and health history will first be recorded. The areas that are then covered are as follows:


The hearing test for a DOT physical uses a forced whisper or audiometry. The whisper test is attempted first, and the driver must be able to hear a whisper at a distance of 5 feet from the examiner. The ear being tested is turned towards the examiner and the other ear is covered. If the person being tested does not pass the whisper test, audiometry will then be used.


Drivers must have at least 20/40 acuity in each eye, either with or without corrective lenses. Their field of vision must be at least 70 degrees in the horizontal median of each eye. It is also a requirement that the driver is able to distinguish the colors red, amber and green on traffic signals and devices.


A urine analysis is required to check for health conditions that could affect the driver, such as diabetes.

Blood Pressure and pulse rate

The driver's blood pressure and pulse rate will be checked to determine whether these are risk factors.

Physical examination

12 different body systems are checked for abnormalities. These include general appearance, eyes, ears, mouth and throat, heart, lungs and chest, abdomen and viscera, vascular system, genitourinary system, limbs, spine and neurological.

The presence of a certain condition may not necessarily disqualify a driver, especially if it is adequately controlled.

Finally, the medical examiner indicates whether the driver meets the standards outlined in 49 CFR 391.41, does not meet the standards, or should undergo periodic monitoring. If the driver meets the examination standards, they qualify for a 2 year certificate of health.

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Written by John Hawes

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John Hawes is the CCO and co-founder at SureHire Occupational Health Testing. John graduated in 2001 from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy. As a former physical therapist, John uses his knowledge of physical therapy and interest in ergonomics and biomechanics to devise fit for work testing.

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