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FMCSA wants to allow learner’s permit holders to operate without a CDL holder in the passenger seat

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed several changes to increase flexibility for commercial driver’s license (CDL) applicants, including a provision that would allow learner’s permit holders to operate without a CDL holder in the passenger seat once the permit holder has passed their skills test.

On Tuesday, the FMCSA released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) intended to increase testing efficiency and flexibility for applicants seeking a CDL or commercial learner’s permit (CLP).

The agency said that the proposed changes will “allow applicants to obtain a CDL and be productively employed as a CMV driver in less time than it currently takes, without compromising safety.”

“FMCSA believes these proposals would improve the efficiency and convenience of CDL issuance, provide needed flexibility for CLP holders who have demonstrated their ability to safely operate a CMV by passing the CDL skills test, improve highway safety by ensuring the integrity of third-party CDL knowledge testing, and enhance flexibility in the transport of empty passenger CMVs from the manufacturer to the distributor or in a driveaway-towaway operation,” the agency said.

CDL Holder In The Passenger Seat Exemption

Part of the NPRM would affect CLP holders who have passed the CDL skills test. Currently, a CDL holder must be physically present in the front passenger seat of a CMV to supervise in order for a CLP holder to operate a CMV on public roads and highways. If the rule passes, the FMCSA would allow CLP holders who have passed the CDL skills test to operate a CMV for any reason, provided a CDL holder is physically present in the CMV, the CLP driver has passed the CDL skills test, and the driver possesses documentary evidence from the testing State that they have passed the CDL skills test.

“Once the CLP holder has passed the skills test and, thus, demonstrated their ability to safely operate a CMV, the current restriction limiting CLP holders to CMV operation only for purpose of BTW training would no longer be necessary. Because these drivers have already met all the requirements for a CDL, but have yet to pick up the CDL document from their State of domicile, their safety performance would be the same as a newly-credentialed CDL holder. Additionally, having a CDL driver accompany the CLP driver who has successfully passed all required CDL skills testing and prerequisites, provides some additional supervision that is otherwise not required for newly-credentialed CDL drivers in physical possession of the CDL document,” the FMCSA said.

The NPRM also suggests other rule changes that would affect CDL applicants.

Skills Testing for Out-of-State Applicants

The NRPM proposes removing the requirement that an applicant must have obtained training in the testing state in order to take the CDL skills test in that state.

The FMCSA suggests that this change “may allow applicants to obtain a CDL sooner by scheduling the skills test in a state with shorter waiting times.”

CLP Holders Eligible to Take the CDL Skills Test Without 14 Day Waiting Period

The FMCSA has also suggested removing the restriction that prevents CLP holders from taking their CDL skills test for fourteen days after receiving their CLP.

The FMCSA says that this restriction “was intended to ensure CLP holders obtained behind the wheel training prior to taking the skills test to improve their chances of passing the test on the first attempt. The restriction is no longer necessary, however, because CLP holders must now complete ELDT (theory training and BTW range and road training) before taking the skills test for a Class A or Class B CDL.”

Operation of Empty Passenger CMVs

An additional provision would remove the requirement that CMV drivers must have a passenger (P) endorsement to transport CMVs designed to carry passengers, including school buses, when the vehicle is being transported in a driveaway-towaway operation and the vehicle is not carrying any passengers.

Third-Party CDL Knowledge Testers

Also included in the NPRM is a provision to require that third-party knowledge examiners be subject to the training, certification, and record check standards currently applicable to State knowledge examiners and third-party knowledge testers be subject to the auditing and monitoring requirements now applicable to third-party skills testers. 

The FMCSA will soon begin accepting public comments on these proposals for a sixty day period. Once the comment period opens, you can submit a public comment online by visiting regulations.gov and referencing Docket No. FMCSA-2023-0115.

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