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To avert a potential truck driver shortage during the coronavirus emergency, a coalition of large businesses and trade groups has urged Congress and the nation’s governors to implement procedures that would allow new drivers to more quickly obtain commercial learner permits and commercial driver licenses.
With as many as 27 state driver licensing agencies closed, two April 7 letters signed by dozens of businesses, major associations and trade groups urged all governors to “take immediate executive action to address a critical threat to our nation’s ability to move medical supplies, food and other freight.”
The response and the nation’s recovery are at risk because many governors have closed their state driver licensing agencies at a time they need them to be open, according to the Commercial Vehicle Training Association.
“It’s imperative that individual states recognize the national impact of their decisions to shut down CDL training schools and SDLAs. We need them to specifically recognize that CDL training schools and SDLAs are essential services,” CVTA President Don Lefeve said in an April 7 statement. “Equally important is appealing to Congress to give the secretary of transportation the temporary authority to create a pathway for the supply chain to continue. This starts with commercial driver training and licensing.”
The closures mean that no new commercial drivers are being trained or licensed in those 27 states, CVTA said. Twenty-three states operate on a limited basis.
“CDL Schools and state driver licensing agencies must remain open (subject to COVID-19 safety protocols) in order to train, test and license new commercial drivers, who will continue responding to our national crisis,” the letter to the National Governors Association said. “Already, industries that rely on CDL drivers, have begun to note the adverse impact on their ability to source new drivers while at the same time facing increased shipping volume demands.”
The more than 160 letter signers include large trucking industry and industry-related trade associations; transportation, logistics and shipping companies; driver training schools; and industry service providers.
The letter specifically asks for governors to clarify existing executive orders or decrees to ensure training schools and state driver licensing agencies are open, and implement additional measures so state driver licensing agencies can continue to test and license individuals while maintaining COVID-19 health safety protocols.
The letter offers these ideas for additional action:
- Open designated state driver licensing agency locations with limited hours so students may obtain CDL permits.
- Establish a temporary online learner permit test.
- Allow SDLA employees to administer the CLP test to students at the school’s location.
- Allow out-of-state students to take CDL skills exams in your state.
- Issue temporary authority to accept a state-licensed CDL school certificate in lieu of a CLP if state SDLAs are closed.
A separate letter by the groups to U.S. House and Senate leaders asked that Congress vest the secretary of transportation with temporary, concurrent authority to issue CDLs, or allow CDL schools to do so.
“Each month, anywhere between 25,000-40,000 Americans are issued a commercial driver license,” the letter said. “Congress has already responded with bold action by passing the COVID-19 stimulus package. However, we believe additional bold action is necessary to ensure that our nation is able to produce new commercial drivers to help both in the short term, but also move our nation’s goods as we emerge from this hibernation.”
The letter asked for legislation that would grant the transportation secretary temporary authority — 180 days or less — to administer CLP or CDL testing, or to approve certain designated entities to conduct training and certify the knowledge and skills in lieu of issuing a CLP or CDL.
Federal trucking regulators already have issued a three-month waiver that will allow truck drivers with commercial learner permits to operate during the COVID-19 emergency without a commercial licensed driver in the front seat of the cab, provided the CDL driver is in the truck.
The waiver also requires that the driver with the learner permit has evidence that he or she has passed the CDL driving skills test.
“[While the waiver is] a great first step, it doesn’t solve the problem of somebody who needs to get that commercial learners permit from the states whose state driver licensing agencies are closed due to the virus,” CVTA’s Lefeve said.
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