August 4, 2014 3:30 AM, EDT

All 50 States Now Allow Skill-Test Waivers to Help Military Personnel Obtain CDLs

By Daniel P. Bearth, Staff Writer

This story appears in the Aug. 4 print edition of Transport Topics.

Military personnel with at least two years of safe-driving experience can now receive a commercial license without taking a state-monitored skills test in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, transportation officials said last week.

The milestone was reached with Alaska becoming the last state to participate in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s military skills test waiver program.

All state licensing agencies now have the authority to waive the skills test portion of the CDL application for active-duty and recently discharged members of the U.S. armed services, the National Guard and Reserve and the U.S. Coast Guard, provided those individuals have experience driving comparable military vehicles.

More than 6,000 people have used the waiver program to obtain either Class A or Class B commercial driver licenses since the program initially launched in 2011, DOT said.

“Our nation’s veterans deserve good-paying jobs when they return home from serving overseas, and we are proud to help,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “Thousands of active-duty service members and veterans have already transferred their skills to jobs driving trucks and buses . . . We look forward to helping even more now that we’ve expanded to all 50 states.”

The U.S. Army has the largest number of motor vehicle operators with 48,000 motor transport operators, or 5.4% of all active duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel. The Marine Corps has 9,200 motor vehicle operators, and the Air Force has 3,300 vehicle operators.

“Reducing the burden of finding civilian jobs is one of the best ways we can thank members of our military and their families for their service to our nation,” outgoing FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said.

In addition to expanding coverage, federal officials said the eligibility period for individuals to obtain a waiver has been extended to a full year from 90 days.

Ferro said FMCSA is trying to reduce the burden of finding civilian jobs for military service members and that “more efforts are needed.”

“This area of our economy is primed for further expansion, with the need for truck and bus drivers expected to grow by more than 17% from 2010 to 2020 — faster than the national average for other occupations,” Ferro said.

Trucking industry officials said they support the government’s efforts to help veterans find jobs in trucking.

“It’s a great program,” said Boyd Stephenson, director of hazardous materials and licensing policy for American Trucking Associations.

Since a majority of military vehicles are straight trucks and operate with automatic transmissions, Stephenson said, many veterans may still need to get additional training to obtain a CDL to drive over-the-road tractors.

“We would like to see more steps to allow people leaving the military to go to schools to get training,” Stephenson said.

Veterans can receive payments for truck driver training under the G.I. Bill, but only if the program meets a minimum number of hours that exceed the length of many commercial training programs, he added.

Despite some of the differences associated with military vehicles, soldiers are generally trained to operate all kinds of trucks and have had little trouble adapting to the needs of commercial trucking, said Debra Morton, program director, driver licensing, for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators in Arlington, Virginia.

“There is no training requirement [to obtain a CDL],” Morton said. “There’s only a testing requirement. Soldiers, based on what we’ve seen, are far more qualified than the average person off the street. In combat, their search and scan capabilities are a lot more honed than the average driver. So the waiver makes perfect sense.”

Federal officials also announced that returning military service personnel in Virginia who possess a state-issued Skill Performance Evaluation certificate due to a limb impairment will automatically be recognized as equivalent to an FMCSA-issued SPE certificate. This will allow them to obtain an interstate CDL.

FMCSA said it hopes other state licensing agencies will establish equivalency SPE programs.