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New CDL-testing provision may raise eyebrows

April 2, 2013

One provision of the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) recently amended final rule on Commercial Driver’s License Testing and Commercial Learner’s Permit Standards may cause concern about its potential impact on the integrity of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) licensing process.

According to FMCSA, it amended its May 9, 2011 final rule in response to certain petitions. The 2011 final rule itself had amended the CDL knowledge and skills-testing standards and established new minimum Federal standards for States to issue the commercial learner’s permit.

As stated in Section 383.75(a)(7) of the 20111 final rule, CDL training schools were prohibited from skills-testing applicants they trained, “except if there is no skills testing alternative within 50 miles of the school and the same examiner does not train and test the same student applicant.”

FMCSA said it had received petitions requesting reconsideration of this provision on the grounds it “was too restrictive and would create hardship for States, training schools, and motor carriers.”

So, the now-amended section of the rule provides that “CDL training schools may test their own student applicants only so long as an individual examiner does not administer the skills test to drivers he or she has trained.”

Yet the agency’s own commentary on this change suggests that it leaves open at least the potential for abuse: “FMCSA acknowledges the hardship and unintended consequences that this provision could cause for States, schools, and aspiring CDL holders. FMCSA believes, however, that prohibiting individual examiners from administering skills tests to student applicants they have trained will further the Agency's and Congress's fraud-prevention objectives.”

But David Heller, director of safety & policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn., told FleetOwner that he doesn’t think the amended provision will affect the CDL licensing provision at all.

What he does believe will have a major— and a positive— impact on the licensing of professional drivers is the upcoming rulemaking on entry-level driver training standards.

“That rule, which we expect to be issued by Halloween, will standardize the training for entry-level CDL drivers across the industry, including driving schools and fleets,” Heller remarked. “The end result will be drivers entering the industry who are trained in a well-rounded fashion.”

Earl Eisenhart, principal of the consulting firm Government Relations Services, is also not put off by the amended CDL licensing process. “This change will likely have a minimal impact overall,” he told FleetOwner, “especially when you consider the whole [CDL] picture.

"FMCSA and the States have already worked to substantially upgrade the CDL testing program itself," he added. "There is also the new entry-level driver training standards rulemaking in the works that will further improve the picture.”

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