What is a DOT Physical?

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If you’re looking to become a driver that operates a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) to transport either passengers or freight, you might not be aware of the physical stress involved in the job. To ensure that you’re capable of performing your duties in a safe and secure manner, you’ll most likely need to know how to pass a DOT physical drug test.

As a CMV driver, you’ll spend numerous hours sitting behind the wheel, which can be extremely taxing on the body. The test ensures that you’re physically and mentally fit to perform your job. 

If you’re wondering what is a DOT physical,Tenstreet can help!

Today, we’re going to answer the question “does a DOT physical include a drug test?” and explain what a DOT physical is. Let’s get started! 

What Do They Check for in a DOT Physical?


As a professional driver, you’ll need to occasionally pass a
DOT physical and drug test. As it stands, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires a medical examiner to clear a driver (particularly long-haul truckers and bus drivers) to receive or keep their commercial driver’s license (CDL). As a trucker, you’ll be navigating the roads with precious cargo, and to minimize the risk of a disaster, the DOT wants to make sure your performance isn’t hindered by a foreseeable circumstance.

That said, what is a dot physical and how can you get one? To get a DOT physical, you will need to see a federally approved qualified examiner. The medical examiner can be within a wide field of specialties, including doctors of medicine (MD), doctors of osteopathy (DO), physician assistants (PA), advanced practice nurses (APN), and doctors of chiropractic (DC). 

The DOT exam’s goal is to determine and validate the overall health of drivers who need to operate heavy CMVs, transport a large number of passengers, or haul potentially dangerous cargo. The tests involved will assess your ability to endure physical and mental stress, as well as gauge your emotional health. While every state has its own DOT physical prerequisites, the objective is to ensure that the CMV drivers operating on the open roads do so in a professional and safe manner.  

Once you’ve passed your DOT exams, you will be granted a DOT medical card. This is valid for up to two years from the date of issue.

Do you Need a DOT Physical?  


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) wants to reduce the risk of accidents on the roadways. The FMCSA does this by requiring CDL holders to pass a
DOT physical and drug test if they operate a CMV for interstate commerce with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR), gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), or gross combination weight in excess of 10,000 pounds. A DOT physical and drug test is also necessary if you plan on transporting more than 15 people, including the driver.

You will also be required to complete and pass a DOT physical if you are a professional (paid) driver whose motor vehicle is equipped to transport over eight people. If you plan on earning your hazardous material (HAZMAT) endorsement on your CDL, the DOT exam will become mandatory.

Does a DOT Physical Test for Drugs


You might be wondering, “
do they drug test at physicals?” A drug screen for DOT physical will be required if you plan on taking certain trucking jobs that follow strict safety protocols. Keep in mind that according to the FMCSA, all CDL holders are performing safety-sensitive functions and are therefore subject to testing. 

For the company, you will have to undergo a drug test to prove that you’re not using any addictive substance that can inhibit your mental faculties, which can result in potential injuries while you’re operating a commercial vehicle. To minimize the onboarding time, the company will generally have the test done with the sample you provide to show healthy kidney function.

Also note, a DOT drug screen may be required after an accident a driver is involved in while on-duty. In certain instances, a CDL holder may need to undergo a drug test even if they weren’t the direct cause of an accident. Cases would include anything that results in a human fatality.

What About Prescribed Medications?

While the standard DOT physical urinalysis doesn’t screen for drugs, you will need to speak with the medical examiner concerning any prescribed medications you’re currently taking. If you have a condition, such as heart disease, neurological or mental conditions, diabetes, high blood pressure, or have recently undergone surgery, you will need to disclose any medication that can possibly impair your driving. 

There are certain medications that may prohibit you from operating a CMV while you’re on the drug, although this decision is left to the judgment of the medical examiner. You will usually need to bring with you the prescription and a note from your specialist or primary care physician, indicating the potential effects of the medicine. It is then up to the medical examiner’s discretion to give you the green light to obtain a medical certificate.

However, if the medical examiner feels that your ability to drive safely on the roads is affected by your condition or the medication used to treat it, then you may be temporarily disqualified. 

After you’ve weaned off the prescribed medication, you can then go back for a follow-up exam and be re-evaluated. There are cases in which you will be issued a medical card. However, it won’t be valid for the typical 24 month period, and you may need to be reexamined in shorter time increments.

What Do They Check for in a DOT Drug Test?

If your potential employer requests a drug screen or if you applied for a federal position, you will be tested for a number of substances. The most common include:

  • Amphetamines and methamphetamines
  • THC/Marijuana
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates – opium and codeine derivatives

What Happens If You Test Positive or Refuse to Test

If you are performing the test for a private company, the DOT has no authority over their hiring and firing process if you fail or refuse to take the drug test.

However, if you refuse to submit to testing or your results come back positive, it is within the power of the DOT to refuse you from performing safety-sensitive jobs. This prohibition effectively makes it so you can’t work as a driver. Permission to resume your duties won’t be extended until you have successfully finished the return-to-duty process. This process includes seeing a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) and resubmitting to another drug/alcohol test.

What Does a DOT Physical Consist Of


A DOT physical is fairly consistent with any other type of physical examination performed under the care of a physician. You’ll begin by disclosing your medical history and outlining any prescribed drugs that you’re currently on. 

The medical history component of the exam consists of:

  • Prescribed medications
  • Surgeries you’ve undergone
  • Substances you consume – tobacco, alcohol, etc.
  • Current medical conditions

Once this is completed, you’ll move on to the physical exam. 

The physical exam will check various functions of your body, including:

  • Measuring your blood pressure and pulse
  • Determining if your vision falls within the 20/40 minimum requirement in each eye
  • A hearing test to assess if your auditory acuity is capable of perceiving a “forced whisper” 
    • If the driver fails the whisper test, the driver must pass an audiometer test to be qualified to drive a CMV
  • A survey for any spinal deformities
  • Neurological reflex examination to test coordination
  • Oral examination to rule out any issues with breathing or swallowing
  • Testing to determine if you have an impairment in lung or heart functions
  • A hernia examination
  • Urinalysis to check for potential kidney issues

If you pass the exam successfully, you will receive a medical card or certificate from the medical examiner. The card usually lasts for 24 months, barring any reasons the examiner requests you to be rechecked sooner. 

There are instances in which medication might inhibit your ability to receive a medical certification, but the examiner can issue an exemption. Most cases of an exemption include medicines for diabetes or a lost limb.

How to Prepare for a DOT Physical 


Before you attend your examinations, there are a few steps to ease the process and potentially help you pass it.

The first thing you need to do is to gather all of the necessary equipment and documentation you might need to bring to the medical examiner. This includes:

  • Doctors’ names and contact information
  • A list of your medication – Ensure you have the dosage and frequency listed
  • If possible, completing the questionnaire before arriving to the testing facility
  • Medical equipment – Eyeglasses, contacts, and hearing aids
  • Hemoglobin A1C lab results and sugar level log if you’re diabetic
  • If you have a pre-existing condition, any notations from that specialty doctor

If you want to ace your exam, then you might also consider making adjustments to your lifestyle before taking the test. You can improve your chances of a passing grade if you abstain from excessive drinking, substance abuse, and food that might exacerbate any underlying medical conditions. Smoking cessation is a frequent recommendation you will hear from a medical examiner. As a result, if you’re a smoker, consider quitting now. 

Turn to Tenstreet


Tenstreet makes it easy to submit medical records and med card updates to prospective and current employers through our Driver Pulse App. Your documents can be stored and updated using your mobile device of choice, making it easier than ever to give carriers what they need so you can get hired and stay employed. 

Find jobs and store your driving documentation by downloading the app now!

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