Association for deaf wants hearing mandate for drivers removed

December 13, 2019

Mark Schremmer


The FMCSA is requesting comments on a petition asking the agency to rescind the requirement for interstate commercial motor vehicle drivers to be able to hear.

The National Association of the Deaf petitioned the agency, and FMCSA’s request for public comments on a possible rulemaking is set to publish in the Federal Register on Monday, Dec. 16.

As part of its petition, NAD said the origins of the hearing requirement “dates to a time of misguided stereotypes about the abilities and inabilities of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals,” and that the rules should be changed.

NAD also wants the agency to amend the requirement that interstate drivers be able to speak, as well as the rule prohibiting the use of interpreters during the administration of the commercial driver’s license skills test. The group contends that both the hearing and speaking requirements are violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The history

The current hearing standard was adopted in 1970 and revised in 1971 to allow drivers who were wearing a hearing aid. In 2012, NAD requested an exemption on behalf of 45 deaf drivers. FMCSA granted exemptions to 40 of the 45 applicants. Since that time, FMCSA has granted more than 450 exemptions to individuals who do not meet the hearing standard.

The requirement for interstate commercial motor vehicle drivers to be able to read and speak English sufficiently to converse with the general public, understand highway traffic signs, respond to official inquires, and make entries on reports and records was first adopted in 1936 by the Interstate Commerce Commission. Other than the elimination of some exceptions in 1939, the requirements have remained largely unchanged.

In 2011, FMCSA published a final rule amending the CDL knowledge and skills testing standards, prohibiting the use of interpreters during the administration of the CDL knowledge and skills test. As part of the rule, neither the applicant nor the examiner may communicate in a language other than English during the skills test. Because some hearing-impaired drivers can’t speak English, it was asserted that they may not meet the requirements of the federal regulations.

In 2017, FMCSA published a notice explaining that the restriction does not mean a skills test cannot be accomplished with a deaf or hard-of-hearing individual. During the public comment period, motor carriers raised concerns about work-place safety with deaf or hard-of-hearing drivers. The concerns included identifying effective alternatives to audible alerts and warnings for hazardous conditions, such as trucks backing around loading docks and driven around terminals.

Request for public comment

FMCSA is asking the public to provide information on whether a regulatory change would have an impact on safety and if it would significantly increase the number of individuals seeking employment as interstate truck drivers.

The comment period will end 60 days after the notice is published in the Federal Register. Once the notice is published, comments can be made at the website by entering docket number FMCSA-2019-0151.

Lucas Oil

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.