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December 17, 2020 12:45 PM, EST

FMCSA Final Rule Adds Flexibility to CDL Skills Testing

CDLA student driver is evaluated. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has published a final rule to increase flexibility in the commercial driver license skills test process.

Specifically, the final rule allows states to permit third-party test examiners to administer the CDL skills test to applicants to whom the examiners also have provided skills training. U.S. Department of Transportation leaders announced the final rule Dec. 17 as truckers were helping to transport initial loads of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Under [Transportation] Secretary [Elaine] Chao’s leadership, the Trump administration has continued to examine ways to provide commonsense regulatory reform and help individuals seeking to enter the commercial driver industry,” FMCSA Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck said. “This new rule will provide states more flexibility during the ongoing public health emergency to test CDL applicants and allow more drivers to safely enter the industry.”

FMCSA Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck

Deck

The final rule eliminates a federal restriction that did not permit a CDL skills instructor who is authorized by the state to administer a CDL skills test to perform both the instruction and the test for the same applicant. Under the final rule, states may use their discretion to allow qualified third-party trainers to also conduct skills testing for the same person.

One intended goal of the final rule is to reduce delays and help drivers obtain gainful employment sooner. In the text of the final rule, FMCSA indicated eliminating the former federal restriction will not undermine the integrity of CDL skills testing.

“The agency believes that allowing states to permit this practice may alleviate CDL skill testing delays, and reduce inconvenience and cost for third-party testers and CDL applicants without negatively impacting safety,” the document states.

States that do not currently authorize third-party test examiners are not required to start authorizing them under the rule. According to FMCSA, 10 states do not permit third-party testing.

The final rule will take effect after publication in the Federal Register. It follows FMCSA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on this subject, which was announced in June 2019. FMCSA’s final rule document indicates many public comments on the NPRM expressed opposition to the proposal, citing concerns about fraud and conflict of interest if the federal restriction was lifted.

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Other commenters on the NPRM indicated the final rule would not compromise safety and noted the measures in place to detect CDL skills testing fraud in states. For example, at least every two years states must take one of these actions: have state employees covertly take a skills test administered by a third party, have state employees co-score an applicant during the skills test to compare results with the third-party examiner or retest a sample of drivers tested by a third-party group to compare results.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for driver testing and licensing efforts. Many state licensing offices have started requiring appointments out of safety concerns. Delays in testing and licensing further exacerbate the truck driver shortage, which has ranked No. 1 on the American Transportation Research Institute’s Top Industry Issues list four years in a row.

“During the COVID-19 public health emergency,” Chao said, “truckers have been American heroes, and the department is committed to helping our economy by reducing unnecessary barriers for those interested in obtaining jobs in the trucking industry.”

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