In an effort to address a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a temporary waiver allowing states to waive a portion of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test.

The federal waiver issued on January 4, 2022, allows, but does not require, states to waive the engine compartment component of the pre-trip vehicle inspection skills testing requirement for school bus driver applicants. This is the portion of the CDL skills test that requires applicants to identify the “under the hood” engine components.

All other components of the written and road test must be met by school bus driver applicants.

School transportation associations, states and elected officials have pointed to the need to identify “under the hood” components as an unnecessary hurdle for those interested in becoming a school bus driver, the FMCSA said.

The waiver applies to school bus driver applicants only. These CDL drivers would not be permitted to operate trucks, motorcoaches, or any other type of commercial motor vehicle requiring a CDL

The waiver expires March 31, 2022.

“FMCSA finds that granting this waiver, by helping to alleviate the school bus driver shortage, is in the public interest because school bus drivers play a vital part in assuring that children are transported safely to and from school and school activities. As discussed below, riding a school bus is recognized as the safest way to get to and from school. Further, to the extent that driver shortages have resulted in cancellation of in-person instruction days in some States, this waiver will serve the public interest by allowing more children to benefit from in-person rather than virtual classroom learning.  FMCSA also recognizes that safely and reliably transporting school-aged children plays a critical role in contributing to the economy by allowing parents and caretakers to get back to work,” the FMCSA explained.

“This federal waiver will help communities that are short on school bus drivers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “By allowing states to focus on the testing requirements that are critical to safety, we will get additional, qualified drivers behind the wheel to get kids to school safely.”

“This Administration is listening to the needs of school communities and remains committed to making sure schools are open safely for in-person learning full time,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “We’ve heard from educators and parents that labor shortages, particularly of bus drivers, are a roadblock to keeping kids in schools. Today’s announcement will give states the flexibility they need to help increase the pool of drivers, who are a key part of the school community, and get kids to school safely each day where students learn best. And American Rescue Plan funds can be used to hire these critical staff, including offering increased compensation or other incentives to recruit and retain staff.”

“Our nation depends on having enough qualified school bus drivers to support our children’s education. Temporarily giving states the option to modify the school bus test, widens the pool of possible drivers to fill this critical role without compromising our vital safety standards,” said FMCSA Deputy Administrator Meera Joshi.

Last fall, New York Rep. Joe Morelle penned a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg asking for the elimination of CDL requirements for school bus drivers and instead establishing a new school bus specific license due to a shortage of available school bus drivers.

You can view the waiver here.

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