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The New Deal
Vision Waivers/Exemptions

Have you been driving intrastate, unable to leave your state due to a vision impairment? It's been a long, convoluted trail of cans and can'ts, but there's good news for those of you that want to go the long haul.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is accepting applications from monocular drivers everywhere for exemptions from the federal vision standard.

In June of 1998, President Clinton signed the Transpor- tation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). In TEA-21, the section of law dealing with the Secretary of Transportation's authority to grant waivers was amended. The more relaxed statute provides the secretary to grant waivers and exemptions, and makes a clear distinction between the two. The duration of a waiver is limited to three months and is intended to be limited in scope to address unique circumstances. The secretary may now grant the waiver without requesting public comment. By contract, an exemption may be up to two years in duration and may be renewed. An exemption will only be issued if granting it is likely to achieve a level of highway safety equivalent to, or greater than, the level if none were granted. The secretary must provide the public with an opportunity to comment on each exemption.

Specifically, FHWA wants vital statistics, experience, present employment, supporting documents (copy of a valid "intrastate" CDL), and of course, driving record for the past three years. The driving record must contain no revocations or suspensions, no reportable accidents for which a citation was issued, no convictions or more than one serious traffic violation for a disqualifying offense, no more than two convictions for any other moving violation.

Background

Two years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, the Federal Highway Administration sponsored a federal vision waiver program, gathering a carefully selected control group of vision-impaired CDL holders for a statistical study. It kicked off in 1992 and was to be a three-year project. The information gleaned from it was intended for use in amending certain medical standards for interstate truckers. More than 3,700 applications were received and 2,411 waivers were issued.

While the driving records posted by these truckers (who were already licensed to drive intrastate) demonstrated a commendable level of safety, a group called Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) opposed the waiver program. In 1993, AHAS petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC circuit to review the ruling regarding the vision waivers. On Aug. 2, 1994, the court ruled in favor of AHAS and despite the safety documentation, vacated the adoption of waivers. All of the drivers were notified their vision waiver would expire in March 1996, but drivers in good standing in the program were allowed to be re-certified for an "exemption" if the better eye was at least 20/40 acuity.

A trucker named David Rauenhorst, a driver for 22 years (more than a million miles without accident) was not part of the waiver group. He applied after the waiver program was halted, and was therefore turned down in May 1995. Rauenhorst's appeal to the Eighth U.S. Court of Appeals resulted in a landmark decision. The court found the denial "arbitrary" and reversed the decision. Rauenhorst received his waiver.

As of December of 1998, more than 2,000 inquiries had been received from monocular drivers. According to FHWA, those drivers have been mailed directives on how to apply for an exemption. If you have at least 20/40 vision, corrected or uncorrected, in one eye, you may qualify.

For information on the vision program, call the Office of Motor Carriers at 703-448-3094. LL

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