Trucking industry stakeholders square off over CDL test flexibility

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WASHINGTON — Regulators received heavy opposition from truck owner-operators and safety advocates on a proposal aimed at making it easier to test and employ new drivers.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed rule, “Increased Flexibility for Testing and for Drivers after Passing the Skills Test,” would loosen current CDL testing regulations by:
The proposed changes, which FMCSA published for comment in February, stem from temporary waivers and exemptions issued by FMCSA during and after the pandemic, as well as a petition filed by the American Trucking Associations in 2020. The public comment period ended April 2.
In pushing for the changes, ATA said it considers a streamlined CDL testing process a way to attract more drivers.
“If the industry and broader supply chain doesn’t effectively address the driver shortage, it could reach 160,000 drivers by 2030,” stated ATA’s safety policy director, Brenna Lyles, in comments submitted on the proposed rule.
“Over one million new drivers will be needed to keep up with industry demands and growth alongside driver outflows. ATA believes any reductions in regulatory barriers in the CDL testing and issuance process that encourage and allow new individuals to enter the driving workforce more quickly are urgently needed to fill this critical gap.”
Werner Enterprises said allowing CLP holders to drive while a CDL holder rests in the sleeper berth — as opposed to requiring the CDL holder to observe the CLP driver from the passenger seat — expands team-driving opportunities and will “promote greater productivity and efficiency in freight operations, while helping recruit qualified drivers to timely and safely enter the workforce.”
The Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), which represents CDL training schools and supports the changes, contends that the revisions to shorten wait times related to license processing and to expand where applicants can take their skills test would reduce costs and bolster tax revenue.
Delays associated with wait-time and test-location requirements “put jobs on hold for 258,744 drivers and resulted in over $1 billion in lost wages for these drivers,” commented CVTA Chairman Danny Bradford, citing data from 2016.
“As a result, federal and state governments missed out on an estimated $234 million in forgone income taxes and $108 million in forgone state and local sales taxes that could have been generated in the absence of skills testing delays.”
Safety taking a back seat?
But owner-operators and safety advocates assert that streamlining CDL testing regulations weakens safety objectives that FMCSA should be promoting.
Regarding allowing CDL holders to rest in the sleeper berth instead of overseeing the learner’s permit holder, FMCSA “fails to explain how the CLP holder will be adequately mentored,” commented Todd Spencer, president and CEO of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
“Given the minimum nature of current entry-level driver training (ELDT) standards, inexperienced drivers will face countless conditions, scenarios, and other challenges they had absolutely no training for during their first months and even years on the road. Eliminating [the CDL holder/passenger seat requirement] ignores the fact that well-trained, more experienced drivers have better safety records and can pass their knowledge along to less seasoned drivers.”
Spencer also pointed out that because FMCSA’s ELDT rule, which went into effect in 2022, does not require a minimum number of behind-the-wheel hours, the agency “should not weaken training opportunities by eliminating the 14-day waiting period for CLP holders to take the CDL skills test absent other appropriate agency actions.”
Peter Kurdock, general counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said FMCSA includes no data or analysis in the proposed rule to support the assumption that CDL applicants are being forced to wait long periods to schedule a skills test.
Instead, by allowing a state to administer a skills test to any out-of-state CDL applicant regardless of where the applicant received driver training, it increases the potential for skills test “shopping,” Kurdock argued.
“CDL applicants would be allowed to choose any state in which to test, including those that could be believed or demonstrated to be ‘easier’ or less stringent,” Kurdock stated in comments to FMCSA.
“Moreover, an extensive investigation published by The Boston Globe … revealed the chronic failings by FMCSA to properly oversee and regulate unsafe carriers and drivers. Therefore, it is unlikely that FMCSA would be able to provide adequate oversight of a less rigorous testing regimen that has fewer protocols in place to prevent unqualified individuals from operating CMVs.”
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