Deaf, hearing impaired exemptions prompts guidance on communication standard

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 10/2/2014

When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued its first-ever exemptions to deaf and hearing-impaired drivers in February 2013, a problem cropped up related to the standard mandating sufficient communication in English, which requires speaking.

Following the decision to grant exemptions, because some of the hearing-impaired drivers receiving the exemptions could not speak English it was asserted that they may not meet the requirements of the federal regulations.

The regulation under general qualification of drivers, 391.11(b)2 states a person is qualified to driver a motor vehicle if he/she:

Can read and speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public, to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language, to respond to official inquiries, and to make entries on reports and records

The issue of deaf and hearing-impaired individuals not being able to speak was first raised by the National Association of the Deaf in discussions with the agency before the first exemptions were granted. The issue is ongoing, and agency officials decided some clarification was in order.

On Wednesday, Oct. 1, the FMCSA posted new guidance on 391.11(b)2 to the Federal Register.

The guidance now allows anyone granted an exemption from the hearing standard to be compliant with the regulations if they are able to read and write in English sufficiently. The guidance removes the required ability to speak for the deaf and hearing-impaired exempted drivers.

That guidance became effective Oct. 1.

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