In an attempt to reduce the “natural shortage of qualified truck and bus drivers”, FMCSA has formally announced two new proposals. These new proposals aim to make it easier for would-be truckers to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
These announcements were officially published via the Office of the Federal Register official website. Along with the publications come requests from the FMCSA asking the public for their comments and feedback on the proposal (more on this below).
The two new proposals by FMCSA are:
- Commercial Learner’s Permit Validity
- Military Licensing and State Commercial Driver’s License Reciprocity
According to FMCSA, these two proposals serve as steps that the U.S. Department of Transportation is taking in response to the manpower shortage, resulting in a simplified process in obtaining commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) and a reduction of administrative expenses to both driver applicants and state driver licensing agencies.
In a nutshell, the two proposals involve qualified veterans and active duty personnel having their CDL knowledge tests waived and CDL learner’s permit validity being extended to up to one year, easing the transition process towards civilian careers, such as professional truck drivers and bus operators.
Here are more details about each proposal.
1. Military Licensing and State CDL Reciprocity
This proposed rulemaking serves as an avenue to implement parts of section 5401 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which the Congress made into a public law on December 4, 2015.
Having the rulemaking approved would allow State Driver Licensing Agencies (SDLAs) to waive the requirement for a CDL knowledge test for individuals employed regularly, or were employed regularly within the last year, in a military position that requires the operation of a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV).
This proposal builds upon and combines with the already established Commercial Driver’s License Requirements of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Military Commercial Driver’s License Act of 2012 that was published last October 13, 2016 (see 81 FR 70634).
The proposed rule would give States the option to have both the CDL knowledge and skills tests waived for former and current military service members who have received training on operating CMVs during their active-duty or reserve service using military vehicles comparable to CMVs.
The combined effect of MAP-21, the Military Commercial Driver’s License Act of 2012, and this proposal would allow for qualified former or current military drivers, residing in participating states, to transition from being in the armed forces to being civilian drivers at a quicker rate.
Though FMCSA concluded from a prior evaluation they conducted that any potential costs associated with this proposed rulemaking would be minimal and not quantifiable, participation in the proposed rule is still voluntary and states are not required to have their knowledge and/or skills tests waived.
FMCSA Deputy Administrator Daphne Jefferson said, “We owe so much to our men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. This action would be one more way we can express our gratitude and assist those with a military CDL who wish to utilize their extensive training and experience operating heavy trucks and buses into careers as civilians.”
Per current legislation [see 49 CFR 383.71(a)(2)(ii)], any individual who intends to apply for a CDL or a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) is required by law to take a general knowledge test and pass it.
This general knowledge test has to meet the established Federal standards contained in part 383, subparts F, G, and H of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, depending on the kind of commercial vehicle group that the person operates or will operate.
A final rule known as the “Commercial Driver’s License Testing and Commercial Learner’s Permit Standards” (see 76 FR 26854) that was published on May 9, 2011 allowed for the addition of the new 49 CFR 383.77 — allowing the States to have the eligible military CMV experience of CDL applicants substituted with a skills test instead.
The MAP-21 and the Military Commercial Driver’s License Act of 2012 allow the states to have the time to apply for a skills test waiver extended from 90 days to one year instead. This waiver is eligible to individuals regularly employed (or was regularly employed) in the military and is (or was) in a position requiring operation of a CMV.
Amendment Highlights and Justifications
The NPRM seeks to amend Section 383.79(b) of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations to waive the CLP knowledge test for qualified former or current military personnel who used to be regularly employed in a military position that requires the operation of a commercial motor vehicle during the year right before the license application.
The conditions that are imposed on this waiver are essentially those that are included in Section 383.77 when the provision was adopted in 2011. Like the MAP-21 and the Military Commercial Driver’s License Act of 2012, this proposed rule would also be permissive — which means that the states would be allowed to exercise the aforementioned waiver option, but not required to do so.
The main justification for the proposed rulemaking and amendments are the “Armed Forces Heavy-Vehicle Driver Training Programs” incorporated into the training regimen of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, which provides specific training that is dedicated to the operation of heavy-duty vehicles.
These programs, after having been reviewed by the FMCSA, has been concluded to supply enough training to enable drivers to maintain a degree of safety that is either equivalent to, or even greater than, the level that normally would be achieved by having them the requirement of passing the CDL knowledge test.
As mentioned in the NPRM for Military Licensing and State CDL Reciprocity, “The four core training programs for heavy vehicle operations, based on the occupational specialty code of the service member, are:
- Army—88M—Motor Transport Operator.
- Air Force—2T1—Vehicle Operations.
- Marine Corps—3531—Motor Vehicle Operator.
- Navy—EO—Equipment Operator”
2. Commercial Learner’s Permit Validity
This proposed rule aims to reduce administrative burden as well as minimize costly paperwork requirements — and the costs associated with it — by the States.
This new proposed rule by FMCSA would allow States to issue a commercial driver’s license learner’s permit with an expiration date of up to one year. It basically replaces the old limitation of six months.
With the additional flexibility and extra time, FMCSA aims to eliminate re-testing and additional fees that individuals seeking an additional 6-month renewal get subjected to. Moreover, it is also expected to improve efficiency and productivity by reducing burdensome paperwork.
According to Daphne Jefferson, “At the core of both proposals is [the] safety of the monitoring public. We will continue to demand that commercial truck and bus drivers, and their employees, adhere to the safety standards that exist to protect all drivers.”
Amendment Highlights and Justifications
The proposed rule seeks to amend Section 383.25(c) and Section 383.73(a)(2)(iii) of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations as to allow States to have CLPs issued for a maximum of one year without having the CLP required to retake their general and endorsement knowledge tests.
The main reason for this proposed change is to increase the efficiency in the licensing system and to reduce current costs to drivers and current administrative burdens to SDLAs.
As mentioned in the NPRM, potential benefits of the proposed rule would include reduced costs for the part of the CLP holders — as opportunity costs of time that CLP holders would be spending in renewing a CLP would be lessened (i.e. time spent in traveling to and from an SDLA office, and time spent waiting at an SDLA office).
Also, SDLAs that chose to issue CLPs that would be valid for up to one year, as specified in this proposed rule, would have their potential costs that are associated with the processing renewals eliminated.
FMCSA is Seeking Comments and Feedback
As stated in the two NPRMs published in the Federal Register, FMCSA is seeking public comments and opinions regarding the published proposals.
For both proposals, the public comment period will stay open for 60 days after the date of their formal publication in the Office of the Federal Register website, which is June 12, 2017.
For the Commercial Learner’s Permit Changes, FMCSA is inviting interested parties to identify the potential costs, savings, and efficiencies that can be resulted from the proposed change in CLP expiration date, along with any supporting data available.
Comments on the proposals can be made by typing in and searching for the NPRM’s respective Docket Number at www.regulations.gov.
The Docket Number for the Military Licensing and State CDL Reciprocity NPRM is FMCSA-2017-0047, while the Docket Number for the Commercial Learner’s Permit Validity NPRM is FMCSA-2016-0346.
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