Missouri Legislature Passes Commercial Driver’s License Bill for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Drivers on Final Day of Session

MCDHH is proud to announce that this evening—May 15, 2020—just minutes before the close of the 2020 Legislative Session, the Missouri House of Representatives Truly Agreed To and Finally Passed House Bill 1963 by a vote of 121-31. Within this piece of legislation was the content of Senate Bill 748, which will allow Deaf and Hard of Hearing Missourians to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). It was the last bill to pass through the House this session. The measure will now make its way to Governor Parson’s desk to be signed into law.

According to MCDHH Executive Director Dr. Opeoluwa Sotonwa, Missouri was not taking full advantage of waivers available through the U.S. Department of Transportation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Missourians to get a CDL. A waiver can exempt a driver from the so-called “whisper test,” which requires them to discern whispered words from a certain distance away. He testified, “Missouri’s current regulations align with the federal Department of Transportation’s guidelines on the issue. However, without recognition of the waiver by Missouri Department of Transportation, Missouri drivers are left out. Studies have shown that Deaf drivers are safe drivers, like their hearing counterparts; some may even have some advantage with superior concentration and increased peripheral vision” said Dr. Sotonwa.

According to recent reporting from CNN, a study by the American Trucking Association prior to the COVID-19 pandemic shows a serious shortage of commercial truck drivers across the U.S., estimating over 160,000 unfilled positions over the next decade. The current health crisis could make these numbers even higher.

Being at the center of much of the country’s ground shipping, with major roadways like Interstates 44 and 70 crossing the state, Missourians are in the perfect place to join the trucking industry amidst a labor shortage. The CDL waiver will open this opportunity to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Missourians as well.

The success of this legislation is credited to Senator Bill White and Representative Travis Fitzwater for sponsoring this legislation. Senator Bill White has championed similar legislation for the last few years and sponsored Senate Bill 748 this year; Rep. Fitzwater took the initiative under his wing by adding it to his bill, House Bill 1963, which gave it the best chance of passage amidst today’s unique political circumstances.

MCDHH will provide further guidance on how to apply for a CDL waiver when the bill is signed into law by Governor Parson and more information is available from the Missouri Department of Transportation.