FMCSA Proposes Increased Flexibility in CDL Testing

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some state driver licensing offices were closed and state licensing employees absent. To allow licensing to continue during the pandemic, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued several waivers for continued testing and skill evaluation of applicants for commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs). Now, at the urging of the trucking industry, FMCSA has evaluated which of those waiver measures improved the efficiency and flexibility of the CDL process and is publishing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to codify them into federal regulations.

The NPRM proposes to adjust five areas of CDL regulations:

Expand a CDL applicant’s ability to take a CDL skills test outside their home state.  Current FMCSA regulations require an applicant who obtained training in a state other than their home (domicile) state to take the CDL skills test there. In 2022, FMCSA implemented the entry-level driver training (ELDT) regulations, ensuring that all CDL applicants, including those from out of state, have completed minimum training standards. With this change, CDL applicants will be able to schedule training and testing in a state with a shorter wait time or one that meets the applicant’s work location and test in their home state.

Permit a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holder who has passed the CDL skills test to operate a commercial motor vehicle for any purpose, with accompaniment by a qualified CDL holder.  Current regulations  allow a CLP holder to operate a CMV  for the purpose of Behind-The-Wheel (BTW) training with a CDL holder in the passenger seat. FMCSA believes that ELDT training combined with a passed skills test sufficiently confirms a CLP holder’s ability to safely operate a CMV. The CLP holder must have state documentation in the cab of the passed skills test. The CDL holder will still need to be present in the truck – but could be in the sleeper berth and not in the passenger seat. This change would offer more work flexibility to CLP holders while they await the arrival of their CDL.

Allow states to use third-party knowledge examiners meeting the same standards as state employees.  During the pandemic many states brought in third parties under an FMCSA waiver to meet the CDL testing workload while state employees were unavailable. This change would allow states to continue to use third-party knowledge examiners who have undergone the same training, certification, and record checking  requirements that apply to state-employed examiners and the state monitoring requirements already in use for third-party skills testers. The third-party knowledge examiners, however, would only be allowed to administer the knowledge test electronically.

Expand applicant’s ability to take the CDL skills test.  Current regulations require an applicant to wait at least 14 days to take the CDL skills test after the initial issuance of the CLP, with the intent that Behind-The-Wheel (BTW) training could take place during that time. Now that ELDT requirements include performance-based behind-the-wheel training, that set waiting period may not be necessary. In fact, ELDT regulations allow applicants to schedule the skills test before ELDT completion, so, with adoption of the NPRM, CLP holders will be able to set a skills test date soon after completion of their ELDT requirements.

Allow CDL holders to operate empty passenger commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) without a P endorsement.  FMCSA says that the P endorsement to a CDL is intended to demonstrate training in the safety and evacuation of passengers. Under the NPRM, an empty passenger CMV, including school buses, could be operated by any CDL holder, thereby facilitating the distribution of passenger CMVs between manufacturers and distributors or in driveaway/towaway service.

The NPRM will be open for public comment until April 2, 2024.

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