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FMCSA to streamline CDL skills testing

Photo credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Federal regulators are considering giving states more flexibility to conduct commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills tests to reduce testing delays, cut costs for third-party testers and applicants, and speed driver hiring.

The proposal, announced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on June 27, would lift federal rules barring third-party CDL skills instructors to perform both the instruction and qualifying testing for the same driver applicant, placing the discretion to allow for that at the state level.

“We continue to examine opportunities to provide common-sense regulatory relief to states and to individuals seeking to obtain a CDL,” commented FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez in announcing the plan. “This proposal will provide states more flexibility, while maintaining safety on our roadways. I encourage all interested parties to review the proposal and to offer their comments to the docket.” 

A 60-day public comment period will start after the proposal is published in the Federal Register, expected shortly.

The proposed rule is based on complaints received after the FMCSA published a final rule in 2011 amending the CDL knowledge and skills testing standards. The rule included a provision that prohibited driver training schools from administering the CDL skills test to applicants unless there were no alternatives within 50 miles and the examiner did not both train and test the same applicant. The FMCSA revised the rule in 2013, allowing both training and testing at the same school – providing it’s not done by the same instructor – as a way to prevent training fraud.

SAGE Truck Driving Schools, which claims to have provided CDL training to more than 40,000 students around the country, took up the cause to recommend that FMCSA loosen the training/testing restriction.

“FMCSA believes that the proposed change is appropriate because, as SAGE noted, there are other means of detecting and preventing fraud in CDL skills testing,” the agency stated. For example, states are required to take action against third-party testers that fail to comply with CDL testing standards, FMCSA noted. States must also maintain a database to track the skills tests, and pass/fail rates, that are administered by the state and third-party examiners.

In addition, FMCSA pointed out that once the Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT) regulations are implemented in February 2020, information collected in the ELDT’s Training Provider Registry will be able to flag abnormally high or low skills-test passage rates for further investigation.

“Given these multiple means of detecting and preventing fraud in CDL skills testing, FMCSA believes that the proposed removal of the prohibition currently imposed would have no impact on safety.”

FMCSA cited similar efforts it’s making to reduce burdens on CDL applicants, including its March 2019 final rule streamlining the process from upgrading from a Class B to Class A CDL, a change it claims will save driver trainees and motor carriers $18 million annually.


  1. Linda Gravelle

    I personally think that if these big companies that supposedly train new drivers should never have the right to do the state tests for CDL licenses. Right now the new drivers that are being trained by these companies are not able to do the job before they are given the keys to a truck. I believe that the training the young drivers are receiving should be better regulated. The new divers don’t understand axle weights, how to chain… How to back up how to read a map. Some of these trucking companies are having folks train that still don’t have a clue.

    1. Tami Hayes

      When a student graduates from the driving school they then go to a company trainer to learn the rules of the road. I worked for a major carrier before I moved over to the school portion of the training, that had an excellent transitional period for the students which ran 6-8 weeks with the company . They trained 6-8 weeks instead of the 1-3 weeks which is in place now for most companies. I have been on both sides of training for 25 years and the school portion of the training is very intense, but the company portion is where the ball is being dropped. When a student comes back in to be upgraded from their company trainers they should be tested and made sure their company trainer has taught them properly on the rules of the road and not just used them as a log book. If you have ever been to a Truck Driving School then you know they go through an intense State regulated program and if they can’t meet the requirements or pass the State regulated tests they won’t get their CDL. A student generally is not getting paid while in school and can’t afford to survive any longer than the 4-5 weeks they are in school, but while they are training with the company trainers they are getting paid and it’s at the company’s discretion on what they are taught and not taught. I fully agree that in the transitional portion of their training they need to be taught how to handle all aspects of over the road driving and giving scenarios in order to be prepared for the real world when they get out there alone.

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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.