New learner’s permit rule eases path to CDL

Photo Credit: FW Staff Photographer

Photo Credit: FW Staff Photographer

The FMCSA has made it easier for those looking to obtain a commercial driver’s license in an action that could help get more drivers into the pipeline faster.

The new rule, announced on Dec. 21 and which goes into effect on Feb. 19 next year, gives state driver's licensing agencies the option of issuing a commercial learner’s permit, or CLP, valid for up to one year from the date it’s issued, versus the current requirement of six months.

CLPs can be issued for periods shorter than one year and can be renewed, as long as the total period of time between the date of initial issuance and the date of expiration - with or without renewal – doesn’t exceed one year, according to the new rule. If drivers fail to get their CDL within the one-year period, he or she must reapply for a CLP by retaking the knowledge exams.

The agency pointed out that, for the states that choose to do so, making a learner’s permit valid for up to a year instead of six months “simply provides greater flexibility to CLP holders to train for and schedule the CDL skills test, without having to incur opportunity costs associated with the renewal of the CLP.”

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Abigail Potter, manager of Safety and Occupational Health Policy at the ATA, said that allowing states to extend a valid CLP to a year instead of six months “will help reduce some of the stress and costs associated for individuals wanting to enter the industry,” she told FreightWaves.

“Additionally, the expanded time frame will help reduce the number of CLPs that would have to be reissued by [the states] and will help employers keep potential drivers on track to obtain their CDL,” Potter said. “ATA hopes that states will adopt this additional flexibility.”

The rule change was prompted by the state of Oregon, when it applied to FMCSA in 2015 for an exemption from the federal six-month requirement as a way of relieving learner permit holders from having to go to the DMV for an additional 180 days.

After finding that the exemption would allow Oregon and other states to improve operations while maintaining safety, FMCSA put out a formal rulemaking for comment last year.

Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, opposed the change, arguing that it could limit a driver’s wages by prevent them from receiving their CDL for up to six additional months. He also contended there was a safety issue, because it would allow carriers to put drivers on the road who had not received their CDL for longer periods of time.

But the agency responded that the association offered no data or explanation to support either claim.

Petitions to reconsider the rule must be submitted to the FMCSA no later than Jan. 22.