WASHINGTON — In a move to enhance the integrity of the CDL testing process, trucking regulators have put forth a series of proposed revisions. The proposed changes by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration may compromise road safety, according to safety advocates.
CDL Testing Regulation Revisions: Easing Restrictions and Addressing Fraud Concerns
Proposed revisions, influenced by pandemic waivers and an ATA petition, aim to counter potential fraud in the CDL testing system. Critics, however, express reservations about the impact these changes might have on overall road safety.
The rulemaking proposes easing current CDL testing regulations by:
- Independent Operation for CLP Holders: The proposal suggests allowing individuals who hold a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) and have successfully passed the CDL skills test to operate a truck without needing a fully licensed CDL holder in the passenger seat. Currently, CLP holders are often required to have a licensed CDL holder accompany them when trucking with a commercial vehicle.
- Interstate Skills Test Option: The rulemaking suggests expanding the options for CDL applicants by allowing them to take the skills test in a state other than the one in which they reside. This could be beneficial for individuals who, for various reasons, find it more convenient or practical to take the skills test in a neighboring state.
- Elimination of Waiting Period for CDL Skills Test: The proposal recommends eliminating the mandatory waiting period of at least 14 days that CDL applicants are currently required to observe after being issued a CLP before they can take the CDL skills test. This change aims to expedite the process for applicants, potentially reducing delays in obtaining a full CDL.
Enhancing Accountability: FMCSA’s Proposals for Third-Party Knowledge Examiners and Skills Testers
FMCSA is proposing comprehensive measures to enhance the accountability and integrity of third-party knowledge examiners, skills testers, and trucking safety and compliance. Proposed changes aim to standardize third-party knowledge examiners with state examiners, ensuring consistent training and certification standards. Additionally, third-party knowledge testers would be subject to auditing requirements similar to those applicable to third-party skills testers.
To combat fraud, the NPRM mandates secure electronic administration for third-party knowledge tests, replacing paper-based tests to reduce risks.
States would set bond amounts, and federal rules would mandate third-party testers to maintain bonds for testing integrity. In case of fraudulent activities involving the third-party or its examiners during CDL skills testing, this bond will serve as a financial safeguard to cover re-testing expenses.
Third-party knowledge examiners would need to undergo a 20-hour training course every three years as part of their ongoing qualifications. FMCSA emphasizes no specific skill requirement for knowledge test examiners, allowing individuals from diverse backgrounds to serve as proctors.
Carriers stand to gain?
Carriers stand to benefit significantly from a proposed revision to current regulations. Current law restricts Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) holders, mandating a CDL holder in the front seat for behind-the-wheel training.
However, one of the proposed changes would empower CLP holders who have successfully passed the CDL skills test to operate a commercial motor vehicle for any purpose. The proposed change allows a CDL holder in the truck without requiring direct supervision, offering flexibility in the trainee’s presence.
According to FMCSA, this proposed adjustment would result in cost savings for both motor carriers and drivers. Following the CLP holder’s skills test success, the CDL holder can rest in the sleeper berth, saving on-duty time. Now, a CDL holder can efficiently use the time previously spent overseeing the CLP holder in the passenger seat.
FMCSA justifies this proposal by referencing previous regulatory exemptions granted to trucking companies such as C.R. England and CRST The Transportation Solution Inc. Issued and reissued, authorities determined that the exemptions did not compromise safety, providing additional support for the proposed revision.
Safety advocates fire back
Truck safety groups strongly oppose FMCSA’s exemptions, which the agency aims to institutionalize through rulemaking.
Regarding CRST’s recent exemption, the Truck Safety Coalition, an advocacy group for accident victims, emphasized that the trucking company provided only a limited amount of data—three months—without any comparative data over its seven-year exemption period. The Coalition noted the exemption lacked evidence of safety maintenance, citing numerous data points indicating potential risks.
Zach Cahalan, Executive Director of the Truck Safety Coalition, criticized FMCSA’s decision to grant the American Trucking Associations’ petition for “CDL flexibility,” describing it as a blemish on the agency responsible for ensuring motor carrier safety. Cahalan highlighted the lack of an attempt in FMCSA’s cost-benefit analysis to estimate negative safety impacts, emphasizing the need for the agency to take safety risks and costs seriously in every proposed rulemaking.
The Truck Safety Coalition urges FMCSA to address concerns seriously, as it believes road safety progress hinges on these actions.