The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has approved an exemption request from Werner Enterprises regarding permit holders.

In a notice to be published in the Federal Register on March 31, the FMCSA announced its decision to grant Werner a five year exemption from the regulation that requires a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holder operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) to be accompanied by a commercial driver’s license (CDL) holder with the proper CDL class and endorsements, in the passenger seat.

“Werner requested an exemption to allow CLP holders who have passed the CDL skills test but have not yet obtained the CDL document from their State of domicile, to drive a CMV without having a CDL holder in the passenger seat. FMCSA has analyzed the exemption application and the public comments and has determined that the exemption, subject to the terms and conditions imposed, will likely achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level that would be achieved absent such exemption,” the FMCSA said.

When Werner filed the exemption request last summer, the company pointed to a “generational driver shortage” as a reason for the request.

Werner said that they are able graduate about 6500 student drivers per year through partnership with Roadmaster Drivers School and that these new drivers used to be issued a temporary CDL upon completion of the CDL skills test, which the company says “made it possible for Werner to immediately designate a new driver as “on duty,” and direct him or her to the state of domicile to obtain CDL documentation without entering a second driver into an “on- duty” status. This, in turn, translated into immediate, productive freight movement for Werner and compensation for the new driver.”

A temporary CDL is no longer issued, forcing Werner prior to the exemption to “choose either to wait for the new driver to obtain a CDL from his or her home state before commencing freight movement in an “on duty” status or send the new driver home in an unproductive non-driving capacity.”

Werner argued that this “down time” causes a host of problems, including exacerbating cost and inefficiency problems for the carrier, presenting a financial hardship for the new driver, and causing possible degradation of the new driver’s professional skill set. The company argued that compliance is causing a significant operational burden.

In response to any questions over the safety of the proposed exemption, Werner argues that “There is no material difference between these drivers and all other professional truck drivers on the road. In fact, Werner notes that by allowing a CLP holder who has passed the CDL skills test to drive en route to a state of domicile with a CDL holder present in the vehicle, this exemption will improve safety over current regulations, which allow the new CDL holder to drive unsupervised immediately after receiving his or her CDL documentation. Werner will ensure this level of safety by maintaining proper, up-to-date records for all drivers in possession of a CLP who have passed the CDL skills test.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) issued a public comment arguing that the exemption could be detrimental to public safety:

Werner’s exemption request fails to explain how the CLP holder will be adequately mentored if the CDL holder is not in the passenger seat. The inexperienced CLP holder does not yet meet the necessary standards to drive by themselves and therefore should not be operating a vehicle on the open road without supervision. Werner erroneously claims that, “there is no material difference between these drivers and all other professional truck drivers on the road.” This assertion ignores the fact that well- trained, more experienced drivers have better safety records.

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