New Prime given exemption from CDL rules

Prime Inc truck

CDL holder will no longer be required in the front seat when a driver with a learner's permit is at the wheel

New Prime (Prime) has been granted an exemption by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for commercial learner permit (CLP) drivers to operate a truck without a CDL holder in the front seat under certain conditions.

The exemption allows CLP holders who have successfully passed the CDL skills test to operate a commercial motor vehicle without a CDL holder in the front seat. A CDL holder must still be in the cab, but they may be in the sleeper portion under the exemption.

The initial request by the carrier to FMCSA was made in December 2016. Prime estimates this would affect between 2,500 and 3,500 CLP holders yearly. The agency said 13 comments were received on the request, all opposed, but that didn’t sway it from approving the request.

“The premise of respondents opposing the exemption is that CLP holders lack experience and drive more safely when observed by a CDL driver-trainer who is on duty and in the front seat of the vehicle,” FMCSA wrote in a Federal Register notice approving the request. “The fact is that CLP holders who have passed the CDL skills test are qualified and eligible to obtain a CDL. If these CLP holders had obtained their training and CLPs in their state of domicile, they could immediately obtain their CDL at the state driver licensing agency and begin driving a CMV without on-board supervision. There are no data showing that having a CDL holder accompany a CLP holder who has passed the skills test improves safety. Because these drivers have passed the CDL skills test, the only thing necessary to obtain the CDL is to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles in their State of domicile.”

CRST Expedited and C.R. England have also applied for and received similar exemptions for CLP drivers.

FMCSA added that Prime’s overall safety performance was taken into consideration. The exemption is effective through June 27, 2022.

“Allowing CLP holders who have passed the skills test to function as a team driver on the trip home enables these new operators to continue to sharpen their driving skills under the mentoring observation of a more experienced driver – and they immediately earn income,” Prime said in its exemption request.

The Owner-Operator Independent Driver’s Association (OOIDA) was among the 13 who opposed the request. OOIDA said the exemption request was not based upon increased safety, but rather upon granting an economic advantage over carriers with similar business practices who would continue to be held to the standards of 49 U.S.C. 31315(a).

Other opposition claimed that allowing the CDL holder to be in the sleeper and not on-duty prevented that CDL holder from supervising the CLP holder, as they are required to do.