Despite safety concerns expressed by a national truck driver training group, federal regulators confirmed on Thursday their exemption of 18 drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing from certain commercial vehicle regulations.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stated that it had 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.

The two-year exemptions expire on Dec. 22, 2024.

However, the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), members of which train over 100,000 drivers annually, argued that FMCSA had provided no “comprehensive understanding” of its reasoning for the exemptions, as well as for exemptions renewed earlier this year to 40 deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who had received initial exemptions in 2013.

Without such understanding, “our members are not able to provide a consistent standard without sacrificing safety or opening themselves up to liability,” CVTA asserted.

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.”

In renewing the 40 existing exemptions, FMCSA “provided little to no relevant data other than noting that they ‘searched for crash and violation data’ and ‘driving records from the State Driver’s Licensing Agency’ when making the decision,” CVTA stated. “The agency did not articulate a satisfactory explanation of why this data was relevant” when determining if the exemptions would likely achieve an equivalent or greater level of safety, the group added.

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

It pointed out that training of deaf or hard-of-hearing drivers is beyond the scope of medical exemptions and is not evidence that it should not grant hearing standard exemptions.

“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,” the agency stated. “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.”

The agency also emphasized that its hearing exemptions are based on “relevant medical information and literature” and a 2008 report that reached two conclusions regarding the matter of hearing loss and CMV driver safety:

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

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