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FMCSA lifts restrictions on CDL knowledge test proctors

New guidance seen as complement to upcoming entry-level driver training regulation

Guidance could help speed new CDLs. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Trucking regulators have issued new guidance that strips away confusion over CDL testing standards and could help deploy entry-level drivers faster.

The guidance filed on Wednesday by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration goes into effect on Thursday. It will allow third-party testers to administer the knowledge portion of CDL tests for all classes and endorsements without a state examiner present.

That seemed to contradict guidance first issued in 1993, and most recently reissued in 2019, stating that the third-party testing provision in FMCSA regulations applies only to the skills portion of the testing procedure.

However, “FMCSA has reconsidered this guidance and concludes that nothing in the agency’s current authorities … prohibits states from permitting third party testers to administer CDL knowledge tests” for all classes and endorsements, according to the new document. “[State driver licensing agencies] may accept the results of knowledge tests administered by third party testers in accordance with existing knowledge test standards and requirements.”

P. Sean Garney, co-director, Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, believes the updated guidance will be welcomed by training schools that have been calling on FMCSA and states to expand third-party testing options for years to alleviate backlogs in the driver credentialing process.

“I think this will be particularly helpful in light of the Entry-level Driver Training rules that are set to be implemented [on Monday],” Garney told FreightWaves.

“In states that decide to allow this, drivers may be able to complete the entire CDL process at the truck driving school. They’ll be able to take the required theory training and then sit for the knowledge test quickly after. This will get them to range and road training more quickly and get [them] trucking sooner. The rules require CDL knowledge tests be developed using a standard bank of questions, so I see little risk in allowing a third party to proctor the exam.”

FMCSA’s updated guidance was issued the same day that legislation was introduced in Congress that contains a similar provision.

The Licensing Individual Commercial Exam-takers Now Safely and Efficiently (License) Act, introduced on Wednesday in both the House and the Senate, would make permanent an FMCSA waiver allowing third-party CDL skills test examiners previously authorized by the state to administer the CDL knowledge test as well, without completing a CDL knowledge test training course. The waiver was issued seven times in 2020 and 2021 to help prevent a shortage of truck drivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The License Act also would make permanent another waiver — also issued seven times during the pandemic — that allows a state to administer a driving skills test to any out-of-state CDL applicant regardless of where the applicant received driver training.

The waiver also allows a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holder who already passed the CDL driving skills test to operate a commercial motor vehicle with an accompanying CDL holder in the sleeper berth. Current regulations require CLP holders to be accompanied by a licensed CDL holder in the front seat of the cab.

“From the onset of the pandemic, these waivers have reduced administrative burdens for Americans working towards obtaining their CDLs and pursuing careers in trucking,” commented Dan Horvath, VP of safety policy for the American Trucking Associations.

“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.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.