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December 17, 2019
FMCSA petitioned to drop hearing requirement

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) called for comment December 16 on a National Association of the Deaf (NAD) petition to rescind the requirement that interstate drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) be able to hear. NAD also requested that the FMCSA amend the requirement that interstate drivers be able to speak and a rule prohibiting the use of interpreters during the administration of the commercial driver's license (CDL) skills test (84 FR 68386).

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Comments are due February 14, 2020, and should be identified with the
FMCSA-2019-0151 docket number.

NAD believes the hearing requirements reflect the misguided stereotypes of an earlier time about the abilities and inabilities of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals and that the rules should now be changed.

The hearing requirement for CMV drivers dates back to 1970. A 1971 revision allowed drivers wearing hearing aids to qualify.

NAD applied for an exemption in 2012 on behalf of 45 deaf drivers. The FMCSA received 570 comments in response to a call for public comment and granted exemptions for 40 of the 45 applicants.

The FMCSA has since granted more than 450 hearing exemptions to individuals who do not meet the hearing standard.

Prior to granting individual exemptions, the agency has published several Federal Register notices announcing receipt of the applications for exemption and requested public comment. The hearing requirement remains part of the regulations.

Other requirements

The requirement to speak was adopted on December 23, 1936, by the FMCSA’s predecessor, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC).

On May 9, 2011, the FMCSA amended the CDL knowledge and skills testing standards.

Knowledge tests may be administered in written form, verbally, or in an automated format. The knowledge test can be administered in any language, but no interpreter may be used. No interpreter may be used in the skills test, either, and CDL applicants must be able to understand and respond to verbal commands and instructions in English by the skills test examiner.

NAD’s petition asks the FMCSA to change its safety regulations so that deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals would be allowed to operate CMVs in interstate commerce. NAD believes the rule should be changed to eliminate the regulatory barrier to these individuals operating CMVs in interstate commerce.

The FMCSA is seeking public comment about five issues:

  • Safety during CDL training. How would CDL training providers ensure safe operations during behind-the-wheel training of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals on public roads?
  • CDL skills test administration. Do State Driver Licensing Agencies (SDLAs) have CDL examiners capable of communicating in sign language to administer skills for drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing, and what steps would examiners take to minimize the time applicants must take their eyes off the road to receive instruction or feedback from the CDL examiner?
  • Workplace safety. What safety precautions would be taken to accommodate individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing who would not be able to hear audible alarms or signals of workplace hazards at terminals and facilities where cargo is loaded or unloaded?
  • Granting of hearing exemptions. Should the Agency continue granting exemptions or consider limiting the exemptions to certain categories, such as individuals intending to operate CMVs for which a CDL is not required, or individuals who already hold a CDL?
  • Impacts if the FMCSA grants NAD’s petition. Would a regulatory change significantly increase the number of individuals seeking training and employment as interstate CMV drivers, and would CDL training providers and motor carriers face additional challenges if the population of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals seeking entry into the industry increased significantly?

A shortage of qualified CMV drivers is a challenge perennially cited by the trucking industry.

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