Advocates for hearing impaired seek exemptions for commercial license
According to the National Association of the Deaf, there is no evidence to suggest that individuals with hearing impairments are at an increased risk for a crash. The NAD has applied to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for exemptions from the hearing requirement for a CMV license on behalf of 45 individuals.
In an informal discussion letter in support of the application, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has asked the FMCSA to adopt a "flexible and comprehensive approach" for individuals who do not meet the hearing standard. It stated its interest in the use of waiver and exemption procedures "to increase the employment opportunities in transportation for individuals with disabilities."
The hearing standard says a person is physically qualified to drive a CMV in interstate commerce if he can perceive a forced whispered voice in the better ear at not less than 5 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 the appropriate American National Standard. But the NAD says research questions the validity of the forced whisper test.
The EEOC said the FMCSA has the authority to grant an exemption from the hearing requirement if it finds the exemption would likely achieve a level of safety equivalent to or greater than the level that would be achieved without the exemption. The exemption, it says, provides for an individualized assessment consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The EEOC encouraged the FMCSA to view the exemptions under a "direct threat standard"; that is, whether there is a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. The determination should be based on an individual assessment in accordance with the most current medical knowledge and/or the best available objective evidence, the EEOC said.
The EEOC cited a 2008 study that said:
- No studies that examined the relationship between hearing loss and crash risk exclusively among CMV drivers were identified.
- Evidence from studies of the private driver's license holder population did not support the contention that individuals with hearing impairment are at an increased risk for a crash.
The FMCSA is considering more than 500 comments on the application in deciding whether to allow the 45 individuals to qualify as drivers of CMVs in interstate commerce without meeting the federal hearing standard. The agency had also sought comments on whether a driver who cannot meet the hearing standard should be limited to operating only certain types of vehicles in interstate commerce such as vehicles without air brakes.
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November 29, 2012
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