Feds loosen rules for deaf truck drivers

Hearing-impaired truck drivers should not be prohibited from operating commercial motor vehicles because of their disability, federal regulators said Tuesday.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced it will loosen longstanding English language requirements for truck drivers who are deaf as long as they can still understand traffic signs and signals.

"The English-language rule should not be construed to prohibit operation of a commercial motor vehicle by hearing-impaired drivers who can read and write in the English language but do not speak, for whatever reason," the FMCSA wrote in the Federal Register.

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The requirements are intended to make sure truck drivers understand the rules of the road, but the FMSCA said some state agencies have misconstrued the rule by denying commercial drivers licenses to people with hearing impairments.

"Because some hearing-impaired drivers granted exemptions do not speak English, it has been asserted that they may not meet the requirements and may not be qualified to operate commercial motor vehicles," the agency noted.

After the National Association of the Deaf complained, the FMCSA said it will grant exemptions to hearing-impaired truck drivers who demonstrate that their disability will not affect road safety and does not put other drivers in danger.

The rule goes into effect immediately.