June 27, 2019 2:00 PM, EDT

FMCSA Proposes Rule to Add Flexibility to CDL Skills Testing

Driver and trainer A student trains behind the wheel with his instructor. (Roadmaster Drivers School)

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s recent proposal to increase flexibility for the commercial driver license skills test process offers a nod of recognition to third-party testing groups, according to Don Lefeve, president of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association.

FMCSA’s proposal, announced June 27, would eliminate a current federal rule that does 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. Additionally, the proposal would give states the discretion to allow qualified third-party trainers to also conduct skills testing for the same person.

Many states allow third-party groups, such as schools, motor carriers and independent testing facilities, to administer the CDL test. However, CVTA’s data indicates that 10 states and Washington, D.C., do not allow third-party testing in any form.

Lefeve said FMCSA’s proposal acknowledges that third-party groups can be safe alternatives for training and testing. He noted that all examiners, regardless of whether they are state or third-party entities, go through the same training. States also audit third-party testing groups to ensure compliance. Lefeve pointed out that people who have been tested through third-party groups can drive through a state that doesn’t allow third-party testing.

Cdl 3rd Party Testers Nprm ... by on Scribd

“[The proposal] doesn’t mean the states will necessarily adopt third-party testing, but I think the more recognition that this is an equally safe practice puts those states on the defensive in terms of justifying why they won’t allow this to happen,” Lefeve said. “I think that what I like about this is the inherent recognition that this is a safe practice.”

According to an FMCSA press release, the proposed rule would reduce testing delays and eliminate expenses for the CDL applicant. Research commissioned by CVTA indicates that commercial driver skills-testing delays result in $1.5 billion in annual losses for the economy and more than 6.4 million days of delays for new drivers.

It’s important for aspiring drivers to take the skills test shortly after they finish training, Lefeve said. He noted that the muscle memory an applicant develops during training helps their chances of passing the test.

“When you delay a student, typically, depending on how extensive the delays are, you’re going to retrain them prior to that test,” Lefeve said. “From a CVTA standpoint, anything that can be done to expedite somebody from getting quality training to a CDL skills test is paramount because it affects the livelihood of that person who is seeking the CDL.”

After publication in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment on FMCSA’s proposal.

Although Lefeve said the proposal is a positive sign, he acknowledged a big unknown: whether states will act on the policy at all. The proposed rule, if finalized, would leave it up to states to allow third-party groups to train and test the same person.

“What this is seeking to do is remove the prohibition on ‘You can’t test a student who you’re training,’ ” Lefeve said. “It’s a good action, but to what degree are states going to allow this to occur?”

CDL-2019-04044 by on Scribd

This proposed rule marks the latest in the agency’s efforts to reduce regulatory barriers. In March, FMCSA presented a final rule that would reduce the costs of upgrading from a Class B CDL to a Class A CDL, an action projected to save eligible driver trainees and carriers $18 million annually.

“We continue to examine opportunities to provide common-sense regulatory relief to states and to individuals seeking to obtain a CDL. This proposal will provide states more flexibility while maintaining safety on our roadways,” FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said in the press release. “I encourage all interested parties to review the proposal and to offer their comments to the docket.”