The federal government is looking into speeding up the process in which Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs) are issued.
At the same time, the federal government ruled against revisions to the hours-of-service (HOS) requirements, citing that safety groups gave no basis for changes that would have provided more flexibility to drivers.
In the first major decision affecting truck drivers in the Biden administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rejected assertions that HOS revisions made in September 2020 will lead to more crashes. That was a defeat for safety advocates and the Teamsters union, which had petitioned the agency for changes.
“Even if petitioners had established standing to challenge the final rule, FMCSA’s exercise of its expertise and discretion to modify existing hours-of-service rules was appropriate and reasonable, and the petition for review should be denied,” the FMCSA ruled last month.
The petitioners had challenged in that the final rule issued by FMCSA in 2020 did not adequately respond to a study showing a nearly four times heightened crash risk among drivers using the short-haul exception from the HOS regs.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to feed more potential drivers into the CDL pipeline to address a current estimated shortage of 80,000 drivers, two bills were introduced in Congress to streamline the process in which drivers apply for CDLs.
Trucking executives praised any effort by politicians or the government to feed more potential candidates into the qualified pool of truck drivers.
“People need to wake up and realize if we don’t have these folks doing this job, we’re in a world of hurt in this country,” Greg Orr, executive vice president of U.S. Truckload of Montreal-based TFI and president of CFI, one of the largest truckload carriers in America, told LM.
The first of these bills is the Transportation Security Administration Security Threat Assessment Application Modernization Act, introduced by Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.). It would allow drivers to use a single valid background check from a TSA Security Threat Assessment to satisfy the vetting requirements for participation in any TSA program.
The second bill is the Licensing Individual Commercial Exam-takers Now Safely and Efficiently Act or LICENSE Act. It would make permanent two waivers issued by FMCSA seven times since the COVID-19 pandemic began over two years ago.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) praised both bills.
“With a shortage of roughly 80,000 drivers, we should be making the process of becoming a professional truck driver as user friendly as possible,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said. “By making common sense changes to the CDL testing process and eliminating redundant background checks, we can cut red tape so these hardworking men and women can get on the road navigating our nation’s highways instead of navigating its bureaucracies.”
Spear said since 9/11, the federal government has created a number of secure credentials for commercial drivers to ensure the safety and security of our country.
“However, with multiple credentials comes increased bureaucracy and costs that professional drivers must navigate,” he added. “By simply relieving drivers of duplicative background checks—and the fees associated with them—we can streamline the process.”
The ATA says that under the LICENSE Act, third-party CDL skills test examiners would be permitted to administer a state’s CDL knowledge test, in addition to the skills test. This provision gives license seekers additional ways to take both required tests from a state-certified third-party, thus reducing potential testing delays.
The LICENSE Act also allows commercial learners permit holders who have already passed the required CDL skills test, but who have not yet received their physical credentials, to drive with a CDL holder anywhere in the truck, rather than requiring them to sit in the front seat next to the qualified CDL holder.
“From the onset of the pandemic, these waivers have reduced administrative burdens for Americans working towards obtaining their CDLs and pursuing careers in trucking,” ATA Vice President of Safety Policy Dan Horvath said. “It makes sense to continue to allow drivers looking to get their CDLs to be able to do so as frictionlessly as possible, while also maintaining the safety standards required of license seekers.”
Meanwhile, the Biden administration left little doubt where it stands on HOS changes. Specifically, the administration said both the short-haul exception and mandatory 30-minute rest breaks are reasonable and effective.
“FMCSA reasonably explained its conclusion that the modifications to the prerequisites for the short-haul exception promote greater flexibility without compromising driver health or safety,” the administration said.
The government said it compared crash data from before and after a similar change was made for a specific class of truck drivers. FMCSA said it also properly justified modifications to the 30-minute break requirement. It said the change does not alter the applicable driving limits and continues to require that truck drivers take a break from driving.
FMCSA rebuked the safety groups’ finding that drivers operating in North Carolina under the short-haul exception had a 383% higher crash risk than those not using the exception. The government said that was statistically insignificant drawn from a “very small sample size.”