FMCSA is proposing several changes to its commercial driver's license (CDL) program to "enhance the flexibility and efficiency of the CDL program," according to a notice published in the Federal Register. The agency says it plans to remove "certain regulatory restrictions to allow applicants to obtain a CDL and be productively employed as a CMV driver in less time than it currently takes, without compromising safety." FMCSA believes the proposal will "further address CMV driver shortages, enhance supply chain stability, and provide appropriate regulatory relief without impacting safety."
What exactly is the agency proposing? According to the notice, the agency is proposing five major revisions, which are summarized below.
CDL skills testing for out-of-state applicants
First, the FMCSA is proposing to allow states to administer the CDL skills test to applicants who live in and were trained in other states. Under current rules (49 CFR 383.79(a)(1)), states can only administer the skills test to non-resident drivers if they have obtained training in the state where the test will be administered. The agency proposes to remove the requirement that a CDL applicant must have obtained training in the testing state in order to take the skills test there.
According to the notice, the agency believes that its implementation of the Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) rule in 2022 should eliminate concerns that out-of-state applicants have not obtained sufficient training to take the skills test. The agency further notes that "proposing to allow States discretion to provide skills testing to out-of-State applicants, regardless of the State in which training was obtained, may allow applicants to obtain a CDL sooner by scheduling the skills test in a State with shorter waiting times."
Operation of CMVs by CLP holders
Second, the FMCSA is proposing to allow holders of commercial learner's permits (CLPs) who have passed the skills test but not yet received their CDL to "operate a CMV for any reason, provided a CDL holder is physically present in the CMV...and the driver possesses documentary evidence from the testing State that they have passed the CDL skills test." Under current rules (49 CFR 383.25(a)(1)), CLP holders may only operate a CMV on public roads with a CDL holder present for purposes of behind-the-wheel training. This proposal would allow the CLP holder to operate for any reason on public highways, so long as a CDL holder is in the vehicle and the CLP holder has passed the skills test.
According to the agency, "Because these drivers have already met all the requirements for a CDL, but have yet to pick up the CDL document from their State of domicile, their safety performance would be the same as a newly-credentialed CDL holder. Additionally, having a CDL driver accompany the CLP driver who has successfully passed all required CDL skills testing and prerequisites, provides some additional supervision that is otherwise not required for newly-credentialed CDL drivers in physical possession of the CDL document."
Eligibility to take the skills test
The agency's third proposal is to eliminate the 14-day waiting period between initial issuance of a CLP and the driver's ability to take the skills test. Under current rules (49 CFR 383.25(e)), applicants must wait these 14 days, which the agency originally "intended to ensure CLP holders obtained behind-the-wheel training prior to taking the skills test to improve their chances of passing the test on the first attempt." However, the agency says this requirement is no longer necessary because CLP holders must complete the ELDT theory and behind-the-wheel training before they are even eligible to take the skills test.
Third-party knowledge testers & examiners
Fourth, the FMCSA is proposing some important changes to third-party CDL knowledge tester and examiner requirements. For one, the agency is proposing to require states that allow third-party knowledge examiners to "apply to those examiners the training, certification, and record check requirements currently applicable to State knowledge examiners, as set forth in § 384.228." Additionally, states would be required to include these third-party knowledge examiners within the scope of the auditing and monitoring provisions in 49 CFR 384.229, currently only applicable to third-party skills examiners. Further, the agency proposes to require third-party knowledge testers or examiners to administer the knowledge test only be electronic means.
Operation of empty passenger CMVs
Lastly, the FMCSA is proposing to exempt CDL holders who are operating CMVs designed to carry passengers (including school buses) from having a P endorsement when the CMV is empty of passengers and the driver is transporting the CMV in so-called driveaway/towaway services from the manufacturer to the distributor.
The FMCSA's proposal, if it becomes final, will bring about significant changes to various provisions of the CDL rules. The agency is accepting comments on the proposal through the end of March 2024 in docket number FMCSA-2023-0115.
If you have any questions about the proposal or how it may impact your operations, feel free to contact us.
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