What is a Dot Physical?

By Karina C. Hernandez - Updated February 23, 2018
Truck driving on the asphalt road in rural landscape at sunset with dark clouds

Commercial motor vehicle drivers carry a lot of responsibility. The Department of Transportation requires certain CMV drivers to pass a physical exam to help ensure their safety. In addition to drivers' safety, a DOT physical examination also helps protect other drivers who share the road with commercial drivers.

Tip

A DOT physical exam results in a medical certificate, which confirms a driver's health and ability to perform safely on the job, keeping the country's roads safe.

Who is Required to Take a Physical Exam?

Commercial motor vehicle drivers who drive only intrastate, or in-state, may not need to take a physical. CMV drivers who drive interstate must take the DOT physical and obtain a medical certificate if they drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Vehicle of

    gross vehicle weight, gross vehicle weight rating, gross combination weight, or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more  
    Vehicles that are meant to transport more than 15 people, or more than eight people if direct compensation is involved  
    Vehicles for transporting hazardous materials that require a placard

It is a common misconception that all commercial drivers who require a driver qualification file or a commercial driver's license must get a DOT physical. Actually, only interstate drivers of vehicles between 10,001 and 26,001 pounds that do not haul hazardous materials must take a DOT physical exam, even though they do not require a commercial driver's license.

Drug Test Basics

Drivers must be screened for possible prohibited drug use and to check for medications that may compromise driver safety. DOT agencies implement drug and alcohol testing of truckers, school bus drivers, certain limousine and van drivers, and mass transit drivers. Only a DOT-approved substance abuse professional can perform these screenings. Drug and alcohol testing may be required under any of the following reasons:

  • Pre-employment
  • Reasonable suspicion or cause
  • Randomly
  • Return-to-duty 
  • Follow-up

What Do They Look for in a Drug Test?

The DOT looks for any drug or alcohol use that can compromise personal, co-worker or public safety. It tests using urine specimens, and prohibits the use of any of the following: marijuana, metabolites or TH; cocaine metabolites, amphetamines, including methamphetamine or MDMA; opiates, including codeine, heroin 6-AM or morphine); phencyclidine or PCP. Prescribed and over-the-counter medications are permitted so long as prescribed by a licensed physician who has considered the safety-sensitivity of the driver's job duties and the medication is taken at the prescribed dosage.

Who May Conduct the Physical Exam

A DOT exam must be conducted by a licensed medical examiner listed on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) National Registry. This includes doctors of medicine, doctors of osteopathy, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses and doctors of chiropractic. The medical examiner may issue a medical examiner's certificate for up to 24 months but may issue it for less time when it is necessary or desirable to monitor a health condition, such as high blood pressure.

About the Author

Karina C. Hernandez is a real estate agent in San Diego. She has written real estate articles for multiple internet channels over the past 10 years. She has a B.A. in English from UCLA.

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