FMCSA provides relief for driver training hit by COVID-19

A three-month waiver lifting certain restrictions for drivers with learner’s permits will help keep them on a path toward receiving their commercial driver’s license (CDL) despite barriers raised by COVID-19, according to federal regulators.

The waiver issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on March 28 acknowledges that some states have closed their state driver licensing agencies (SDLAs) in response to social distancing guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That move has led to SDLAs being unable to process and issue a CDL to commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders who have passed the driving skills test. The waiver expires on June 30 or until the national emergency declaration is lifted.

A waiver issued on March 24 by the FMCSA addressed for expiring CDL, CLP and medical cards but didn’t address drivers currently in the training process.

“Given the national emergency, there is a public need for immediate transportation of essential supplies, equipment, and persons, which requires an adequate and sustained supply of drivers eligible to operate a CMV [commercial motor vehicle], FMCSA stated. “This waiver provides needed relief from specified [regulations] for states and CLP holders.”

The latest waiver has two parts. First, it waives the requirement that a CLP holder be accompanied by a CDL holder, with the proper CDL class and endorsements, seated in the front seat of the vehicle while the CLP holder operates a CMV on public roads or highways, according to FMCSA.

A CLP holder may operate a CMV on public roads or highways without an accompanying CDL holder present in the front seat of the vehicle “provided that the CDL holder is elsewhere in the cab, the CLP holder is in possession of evidence from the testing jurisdiction, including an authorized third-party tester, that the CLP holder has passed the CDL driving skills test, and, unless the FMCSA waiver issued on March 24 applies,” whereby the CLP holder has a valid non-CDL driver’s license, CLP, and medical certificate, the waiver states.

Second, it waives a regulatory restriction that limits states to administering a driving skills test to a CDL applicant who has taken driver training in one state but lives in another. “Under the terms, conditions, and restrictions of this waiver, a State may elect to administer a driving skills test to any non-domiciled CDL applicant, regardless of where the applicant received driver training,” FMCSA stated.

The waiver will help the agency “to respond to this unique event, prevent a possible shortage of CMV drivers from becoming a transportation emergency, and…continue the ability of intrastate and interstate CDL and CLP holders to transport goods in response to the COVID-19 emergency,” according to FMCSA.

The Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), which has urged the FMCSA to loosen restrictions on behalf of driver training facilities, welcomed the changes.

“The FMCSA is trying to create a path forward so that these drivers who currently have CLPs can get tested despite the fact that a state may be shut down, and we applaud them big-time for doing that,” CVTA President and CEO Don Lefeve told FreightWaves.

“But the broader issue is that for a shutdown that’s going to last at least another month and maybe longer, you’re talking about 25,000 to 45,000 drivers that won’t be able to get their CLP to start with, which is going to have a major impact not only in short-term to response to this crisis but also in the longer term recovery effort. That’s what we’re trying to figure out and solve right now.”