A new federal law that takes effect next year that—for the first time ever—links the CDL with the medical card.

Farmers are among those receiving notices.

All Illinois holders of a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) have or soon will be receiving a notice from the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office about the new law.  The requirements spelled out in the notice apply to farmers and non-farmers alike.

Farmers who do not have a CDL should not be receiving a copy of the notice.

You have 2 years to show up

All CDL drivers will have to appear in-person at a CDL testing facility to affirm whether they are required to have a medical card and whether they operate on an interstate or intrastate basis.  Generally, those interstate drivers who are required by law to have a medical card will have to have their medical card in-hand at the time of that visit. 

This requirement kicks in January 30, 2012, and must be completed by January 30, 2014.

Those drivers whose CDL expires within that two-year period can fulfill the requirement when they go in to have their CDL renewed.  Those whose CDL expires after January 30, 2014, will have to make a special trip to one of 47 CDL testing facilities prior to that deadline to complete the task.

What’s it good for?

The purpose of the law is to finally link the medical card to the CDL.  It will also make that medical record a part of the federal electronic database on CDL drivers known as “CDLIS” (Commercial Driver’s License Information System.)   Until now, the only means of verifying a driver’s compliance with the physical requirements of the federal law was the material presence of the medical card.  Under this new system, it might eventually be possible to eliminate the card and rely solely on the electronic record.

So, what is a medical card?

It’s a wallet-sized document that has been signed by a qualified medical professional indicating that the driver has passed a DOT Physical and is generally physically qualified (under federal law) to drive a truck.  That DOT Physical looks at a specified set conditions including such things as eyesight and hearing, range of motion in joints, loss of limbs, and the presence of potentially debilitating disorders such as diabetes or seizures.  While most physicians are medically qualified to conduct the physical, not all offer the service.  Special forms are available online. 

Who is required to have a medical card?

The federal law [49 CFR 391] generally starts from the premise that everyone who drives a vehicle of 10,001 pounds or more as part of a business (including farming) is subject to the requirement.  Then it lists exceptions.  One of those exceptions is for farmers, but only certain farmers.  The farmer exception from the requirement to have a medical card extends to:  custom-harvesting operations; apiarian industries; and to certain farm vehicle drivers.  That last one means a person (farmer or farm employee) who drives only a (straight truck) that is:

(a)  Controlled and operated by a farmer as a private motor carrier of property;

(b)  Being used to transport either—(1) Agricultural products, or (2) Farm machinery, farm supplies, or both, to or from a farm;

(c)  Not being used in the operation of a for-hire motor carrier;

(d)  Not carrying hazardous materials of a type or quantity that requires the vehicle to be placarded; and

(e)  Being used within 150 air-miles of the farmer's farm.

This exception does NOT extend to a farmer who drives a combination vehicle.  Those farmers who drive a semi or tow a trailer behind a truck must have a medical card.

So what’s to be done about it?

Except for causing about half of all CDL-licensed drivers to make a premature trip to a Secretary of State testing facility, this rule imposes few new burdens on drivers.  The most extensive might be the need for the driver to update the Secretary of State when their medical card is renewed (every two years.)

Illinois Farm Bureau will help to get the word out to farmers through statewide publications and networks.  County Farm Bureaus need to be aware of the requirement and—for the next two years—help direct farmers with questions to the materials and agencies that can provide the answers.  You can also help to remind farmers that they should have these medical cards up-to-date and ready well ahead of the time of their CDL renewal.