In February, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking intended to increase the flexibility states have when issuing commercial driver’s licenses. The proposal generated over 400 comments, more than double that of its recent proposed changes to the Compliance, Safety and Accountability program. Along with those comments came a slew of trade press stories highlighting the discontent generated. Many argued that that the rules would make our industry less safe and that it was an ill-advised acquiescence to large trucking companies. Is it true?

FMCSA proposes several significant changes. One is to allow CDL applicants to take their skills test in a state other than their state of domicile or the state in which they received training. Here opponents argue that this could encourage drivers to engage in “test shopping” in search of the state with the lowest standards. Initially, skills testing of CDL applicates was restricted to the driver’s state of domicile, in part, to avoid this “test shopping” due to States differing training requirements. Since 2022 however, new applicants have been required to complete approved Entry-level Driver Training (ELDT) courses, thereby mitigating this safety concern. For those arguing that some states have more stringent testing requirements, its useful to point out that states must abide by requirements laid out in AAMVA’s CDL Test System Manual, which prescribes how to conduct skills tests, how to score them, the skills to be tested and important information about test route selection.

Another change receiving negative comments is the proposal to allow commercial learner’s permit holders to operate a CMV without a CDL holder in the jump seat. Many commentors were appalled at the possibility that permit holders would drive unsupervised. This perception has been fueled by a misunderstanding of what’s being proposed. FMCSA is not suggesting that unqualified drivers be permitted to operate a CMV unsupervised. What is being proposed is that drivers that have completed ELDT, taken and passed both the skills and knowledge test, but have not yet received their physical CDL in the mail, be allowed to drive. Subject drivers must still be accompanied by a licensed driver but can operate in a true team configuration in which the partnered driver can rest in the sleeper berth while the other drives. The only thing preventing the driver from being able operate solo is the US Mail.

Detractors to FMCSA proposal are rightly concerned with safety on our roadways and, contrary to what some claimed, so is the Agency. That’s why FMCSA implemented its ELDT rules in the first place, leveling the knowledge and skills playing field for new drivers. With the heavy lifting here complete, perhaps its time to loosen the reigns and open the spigot a little more, allowing the industry access to the drivers it badly needs. Of course, the proposal is permissive, not mandatory, so its ultimate impact will depend on States willingness to adapt, which could be a long shot.