The Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) oversees states to ensure that they are properly following federal minimum testing requirements governing how commercial drivers are licensed nationwide. To obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), a student driver must follow a two-step process similar to that of someone seeking a traditional license. First, the driver must pass a written “knowledge” test to obtain a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP). Later, the driver must pass a behind the wheel “skills” test to obtain a CDL.
Though CDLs are tested for and issued on a state-by-state basis, FMCSA has adopted a minimum set of standardized skills tests that all states must utilize when testing a driver for a CDL in an effort to ensure that commercial drivers – who regularly drive interstate – are qualified to drive safely on the roads. As of July 2015, states will be required to use an FMCSA pre-approved State Testing System that is comparable to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators’ 2005 CDL Test System (July 2010 version), and state examiners will be required to have completed a formal CDL examiner training course and exam.
THE CURRENT PROBLEM
Though these July 2015 changes mark FMCSA’s most recent efforts to standardize state CDL tests and ensure that state CDL examiners are qualified, FMCSA has failed to take the most obvious step towards ensuring examiner credibility and capability – requiring states to ensure that their CDL examiners hold a CDL themselves.
FMCSA’s failure to require that states ensure that their CDL examiners hold a CDL undermines the integrity of the CDL testing process and the trucking industry. A pilot testing for a license would not take a test flight with someone who is not licensed to operate an airplane; a law student’s bar exam would not be graded by someone who is not an attorney; even a driver seeking a traditional driver’s license would not go onto the road with an examiner who is not licensed to operate a car. Requiring a tester hold the license for which they are testing is an obvious requirement that is followed by nearly every industry – the requirement stresses the importance of the license and ensures that examiners are adequately positioned to judge the qualifications of their applicants.
Additionally, FMCSA’s failure to require that state CDL examiners hold a CDL fails to comply with current law. As with a traditional license, student drivers taking the behind the wheel “skills” portion of their test – the CDL exam – will hold a CLP only, and therefore, may lawfully operate a commercial vehicle only if accompanied by a CDL holder. However, because FMCSA does not require state examiners to hold a CDL, students are often effectively forced to break the law during the CDL test, as the examiner riding with them may not hold a CDL. This sends a dangerous message to CLP holders about the importance of following FMCSA regulations mandating that a CLP holder only drive if accompanied by someone with a CDL. Finally, FMCSA’s failure to ensure that state CDL examiners hold a CDL is unsafe. Should a CDL applicant have an emergency on the road during testing, the examiner may be ill equipped to respond and may not know how to operate the commercial vehicle.
CVTA is seeking legislation in the Highway Bill, which would require the FMCSA to mandate that all CDL skills examiners hold CDLs within five years of the date of the law’s enactment. This simple and obvious requirement will ensure that those administering the CDL test are best positioned to safely and effectively judge the capabilities of an applicant.
Don Lefeve (