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Deaf Drivers Granted Exemption by FMCSA Amid CVTA Objections

Despite safety concerns expressed by the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration confirmed its 2-year exemption of 18 truck drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing. These exemptions expire on December 22, 2024.

Federal regulations state that a person is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if that person “first perceives a forced whispered voice in the better ear at not less than five feet with or without the use of a hearing aid or, if tested by use of an audiometric device, does not have an average hearing loss in the better ear greater than 40 decibels at 500 Hz, 1,000 Hz, and 2,000 Hz with or without a hearing aid when the audiometric device is calibrated to American National Standard.”

The FMCSA stated that it evaluated the applicants’ eligibility “and determined that granting exemptions to these individuals would likely achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level that would be achieved by complying with” federal regulations.

Training over 100,000 new drivers annually, members of the CVTA argued that FMCSA has not provided a comprehensive understanding of its reasoning for these exemptions nor those that were renewed earlier in 2022 for 40 deaf or hard of hearing individuals who had received initial exemptions in 2013.

According to the CVTA, the FMCSA provided little to no relevant data other than noting that they ‘searched for crash and violation data’ as well as ‘driving records from the State Driver’s Licensing Agency’ when making their decision to renew the 40 existing exemptions.

“The agency did not articulate a satisfactory explanation of why this data was relevant,” the group stated.  “Therefore, although CVTA fully supports the FMCSA’s mission to promote inclusivity and provide reasonable accommodations, it is the opinion of the association that not enough research has been made available to the public on this matter and the Agency has not been transparent with their standards of how exemptions are granted or extended. We request additional research, public data, and guidance on this matter.”

In response, FMCSA countered that CVTA “has not provided any data showing that drivers who are hard of hearing or deaf are at increased crash risk.”

The agency went on to say, “FMCSA notes there are CDL training schools that have successfully trained deaf and hard of hearing drivers and state driver’s licensing agencies have found ways to conduct CDL skills tests for such individuals. FMCSA believes that it is not necessary for FMCSA to ‘provide a consistent standard’ for training and testing activities when considering an application for an exemption from the hearing standard.”

In addition, FMCSA stated that its hearing exemptions are based on relevant medical information and literature as well as a 2008 report which reached two conclusions on the matter of hearing loss and CMV driver safety.

  1. No studies were identified showing a relationship between hearing loss and crash risk exclusively among CMV drivers.
  2. Evidence from studies of the private drivers’ license holder population does not support the contention that those with hearing impairment are at an increased risk of crash.