February 1, 2013 11:15 AM, EST
FMCSA Waives Hearing Standard for 40 Drivers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has waived the federal hearing standard for 40 deaf or hard-of-hearing people who want to get commercial driver licenses, the agency said Friday.

In a Federal Register notice, FMCSA said granting the exemptions “will provide a level of safety that is equivalent to or greater than the level of safety maintained without the exemptions.” The drivers must apply for exemptions again in two years if they want to keep driving.

The National Association of the Deaf petitioned for some of the exemptions last year and then added others in February 2012. Friday’s announcement is the first time the hearing standard has been waived, NAD said.

“The hearing standard is the kind of institutionalized discrimination based on stereotyped assumptions, rather than on data or facts, that the NAD has fought to change for many years,” said Howard Rosenblum, NAD’s chief executive officer.

“The NAD is thrilled that these safe and skilled deaf and hard of hearing drivers can now pursue the career of their choice,” he said in a statement.

In comments submitted to FMCSA in June 2012, American Trucking Associations said it supported granting the exemptions and asked the agency to use those drivers to study a permanent change to the hearing standard.

Other disability advocates also supported the exemptions, but Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety urged the agency to instead conduct thorough research into whether doing so would be safe.

Federal regulations state that a driver must be able to hear a “forced whisper” from 5 feet away in order to obtain a CDL, but FMCSA has the power to waive that standard on a case-by-case basis.