Pennsylvania Updates CDL Skills Test

Change Could Ease Shortages of Truck and School Bus Drivers
Pennsylvania Turnpike
The Pennsylvania Turnpike over the Lehigh River. (Alex Potemkin/Getty Images)

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Pending changes to Pennsylvania’s commercial driver license skills test should make the road a more attainable destination for would-be truck drivers without compromising highway safety, officials with area training and testing programs say.

The updated standards will also modify part of the licensing process for school bus drivers, which could help ease the state’s chronic shortage.

The state Department of Transportation announced last week that a new, modernized CDL skills test will be implemented at all PennDOT driver’s license centers and third-party locations offering the test beginning Aug. 28.

The much-needed updates, intended to reflect modern vehicle features, will affect the pre-trip vehicle inspection and basic control skills portions of the full skills test, PennDOT said.

student driver

Prospective CDL holders will still be required to pass a written exam, and the final road test is unchanged. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics) 

Prospective licensees will still be required to pass an initial written exam, and the final road test portion of the skills test is unchanged.

“It still tests appropriately to make sure someone is safe to be on the road,” Mike Glanz, director of operations for CC Training, which provides the CDL training program at Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke, said of the modernized test.

“As always, you can never test for everything, but you have to test to the point of being reasonably sure that the person knows enough to be safe on the job. I do believe this test tests to that level. It meets that criteria.”

Frank Tunis, CDL program director at Fortis Institute in Forty Fort, said he also has no concerns about the updates, calling the standards rigorous.

“They are not giving anything away,” Tunis said. “You still have to be able to maneuver the vehicle.”

However, the changes will help streamline and simplify the testing, he said.

For example, during the current pre-trip inspection test, an applicant could be asked to identify more than 120 different components on the vehicle and describe what they are looking for to ensure it is safe and ready for use, he said.

Under the updated standards, that number will be scaled back to about 90, and applicants will be allowed to use a checklist as a memory aid under the new standards, according to PennDOT.


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“So as you go through, instead of the examiner having a checklist and you trying to do everything by memory, you’ll have a checklist to help you,” Tunis said. “It won’t give you the specifics of every part, but it gives a generalization of what you’re looking for.”

Similarly, the current basic control skills test is essentially a test of the operator’s backing ability, Glanz said. The updated test will require applicants to carry out four specific maneuvers to demonstrate control: forward stop, straight-line backing, forward offset tracking and reverse offset backing.

Glanz said the forward stop maneuver, during which the driver must pull forward and bring the vehicle to a stop within a 3-foot box, grew out of concerns over rear-end collisions and was added by PennDOT after consultation with industry officials.

In addition, the control skills test, which applicants now perform as a series of separate actions, will be done as one fluid maneuver — no more moving from one location to another.

“It’s very much a flow up and then back, and then up and then back,” Glanz said.

Tunis said the changes should make the CDL licensing process more efficient, which PennDOT cited as one of its goals.

“It’s something people can get into, understand a little easier, get through the testing process smoother, ultimately getting people into the workforce a little faster,” he said.

Another change is specific to prospective school bus drivers.

Under a federal waiver adopted by PennDOT, drivers seeking to obtain a school bus endorsement no longer must take the part of the CDL pre-trip inspection test that requires them to identify engine components “under the hood.”

“It’s a start. It’s definitely a start,” said Joe Stafursky, operations manager for DKB Transportation in Jermyn, which provides bus services to the Valley View and Mid Valley school districts.

As finding school bus drivers becomes more difficult year after year, Stafursky said he welcomes any change that will make it easier for applicants to obtain a license.

School districts across Pennsylvania are short about 3,500 drivers at this point, said Aaron Sepkowski, the president of Pocono Transportation in Covington Twp. who serves as vice president of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association.

However, the actual number is probably much higher than that when the transportation needs for extracurricular activities are included, he said.

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The problem is school buses are wrapped up in the same class as tractor-trailers as far as CDL licensing in Pennsylvania, and they are different vehicles with different missions, he said.

The PSBA would ultimately like to see a school bus-only CDL licensing process that can be tailored “to exactly what the student population’s needs are,” said Sepkowski, who believes the initiative would find support in the Legislature.


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