Driving schools seek DOT authority for CDL testing

A coalition of 77 commercial driver’s license (CDL) schools, along with dozens of trucking companies, shippers and trade groups, is calling for legislation giving the federal government authority to administer CDL testing as COVID-19 shuts down new driver training.

The coalition, led by the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), is also asking governors to issue executive orders recognizing CDL training schools and state driver’s license agencies (SDLAs) as “essential services” as defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“The problem we’re seeing currently is that there’s been a difference of opinion from the states on whether SDLAs and CDL training qualifies as essential services,” CVTA President and CEO Don Lefeve told FreightWaves. “We happen to think it’s already spelled out in the [DHS] guidance, but states are continuing to shut down their motor vehicle departments.”

According to CVTA, 27 states have closed their SDLAs, many of which are departments of motor vehicles (DMVs), and the remaining 23 states are operating on a limited basis. Those changes have limited the ability to issue commercial learner’s permits (CLPs), which driver schools rely on to conduct proper training.

Lefeve told FreightWaves in March — as SDLAs were ramping up closures — that DMV shutdowns in response to the coronavirus crisis were starting to choke off the pipeline of entry-level drivers for both emergency transportation and for the country’s longer-term economic recovery. CVTA estimates that before the COVID-19 outbreak, 25,000 to 40,000 CDLs were being issued every month.

The proposed legislation would give the U.S. secretary of transportation temporary authority — 180 days or less — to administer CLP or CDL testing, or to approve entities such as CDL schools or third-party training programs to conduct training and certify applicant’s knowledge and skills in lieu of issuing a CLP or CDL.

“Our first hope is that the governors can solve the problem, but Congress needs to enact legislation if they don’t,” Lefeve said, noting that the goal is to get the legislation included in the next federal relief package that potentially will follow the recently enacted $2 trillion CARES Act. “You need to give the DOT secretary this authority — whether she needs to use it is a different matter — but we need that option to help keep the supply chain moving.”

In a letter to the National Governors Association on Tuesday, CVTA’s coalition, which includes UPS [NYSE: UPS] and major truckload carriers such as U.S. Xpress [NYSE: USX], Knight-Swift Transportation [NYSE: KNX] and Werner Enterprises [NASDAQ: WERN], suggested additional actions states could take to maintain the CLP and CDL process while adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols:

  • Open designated SDLA locations with limited hours so students may obtain their CDL permits;
  • Establish a temporary online CDL permit test;
  • Allow SDLA employees to administer the CLP test to students at the school’s location;
  • Allow students to take CDL skills exams in states other than their own;
  • Issue temporary authority to accept a state-licensed CDL school certificate in lieu of a CLP if state SDLAs are closed.