FMCSA eliminates requirement for military CDL holders to pass knowledge, driving skills tests

 Spc. Trey Dodds, a truck driver with the 110th Composite Truck Company, attaches a trailer to a vehicle on Sept. 13, 2018, in preparation for deployment in hurricane affected areas on the East Coast. ( Photo: Army photo by Sgt. Liane Hatch )

Spc. Trey Dodds, a truck driver with the 110th Composite Truck Company, attaches a trailer to a vehicle on Sept. 13, 2018, in preparation for deployment in hurricane affected areas on the East Coast. (Photo: Army photo by Sgt. Liane Hatch)

Military members looking to become truck drivers may have an easier time in doing so as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has authorized states to waive the commercial learner’s permit (CLP) knowledge test and driving skills tests. It does not direct the states to do so but allows each state to at its own discretion.

The ruling was announced in a Federal Register Final Rule this morning. Specifically, the rule states that “certain individuals who are, or were, regularly employed within the last year in a military position that requires, or required, the operation of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV)” are eligible to skip the knowledge test portion of the CDL process. “This rule includes the option for an SDLA [State Driver Licensing Agency] to waive the tests required for a passenger carrier (P) endorsement, tank vehicle (N) endorsement, or hazardous material (H) endorsement, with proof of training and experience.”

The rule also states that certain drivers can be exempted from taking the driving skills test as well.

“This rule gives states the option to waive both the CDL knowledge and driving skills tests for certain current and former military service members who received training to operate CMVs during active-duty, National Guard or reserve service in military vehicles that are comparable to CMVs,” the rule states. “The combined effect of the Military CDL I rule and this rule will allow certain current or former military drivers, domiciled in participating States, to transition to a civilian CDL more quickly due to their armed forces training and experience.”

Many in trucking have viewed veterans as a key piece to help alleviate the driver shortage but concerns over the timeliness of that process and the inability of states to recognize veteran’s driving experience have slowed that process.

One of the factors that delay licensing is that CDL holders must pass requirements in their home states – which for military members is often not the state in which they are stationed.

The Military CDL I rule, issued in October 2016, sought to alleviate this by allowing states to extend up to 1 year the time a candidate has to apply for a test waiver after leaving the military. It also allowed the state where the military member is stationed to coordinate with the member’s home state on the knowledge or skills test.

This rule, first published on June 17, 2017 as proposed rule, received 17 comments, FMCSA said, with 15 in support. Among those submitting supporting comments was American Trucking Associations (ATA), the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), the Propane Gas Association of New England (PGANE), the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA), and the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA).

Many commenters felt the rule would reduce the burden to enter the industry, including the time it takes to become licensed, and help in recruiting efforts.

In response to questions around the rule, FMCSA inserted language into the Final Rule that would allow the waiver of knowledge tests for H and N endorsements as well as P endorsements. No other endorsements can be waived.

“Several Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) include training that corresponds to the knowledge tests for H, N, and P endorsements. If applicants can demonstrate that they have received such training, SDLAs may waive one or more of these knowledge tests,” the rule states.

Again, it noted, states are not required to honor the language of this Final Rule, but the rule provides the opportunity to do so.

FMCSA has made a push to address this, recently announcing a pilot program that would allow those 20 and younger who possess the U.S. Military equivalent of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate large trucks in interstate commerce.

“This program will allow our Veterans and Reservists, to translate their extensive training into good-paying jobs operating commercial vehicles safely across the country, while also addressing the nationwide driver shortage,” said Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

Under the pilot, candidates must be sponsored by a participating trucking company. The program pushes the industry one step closer to its goal of opening the doors to those under 21 to legally transport goods across state lines. Currently, CDL holders must be over 21 to cross state lines, but those under 21 can move goods within state borders, creating an odd situation for trucking companies. It’s possible under the current rules for a 19-year-old to drive an 80,000-pound truck 500 miles within a state’s border, but theoretically drive that same truck 4 miles in the opposite direction and break the law.

Today’s move will help streamline the process and allow those veterans with military driving experience to move quicker into full-time driving jobs.