WASHINGTON – Certain commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders driving for megacarrier Werner Enterprises, Inc. will be allowed to operate without a commercial driver’s license (CDL) holder in the passenger seat, according to a new ruling from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which granted the ruling this week.
The exemption has been previously granted to other trucking companies, including CR England, CRST and New Prime and only applies to permit holders who have passed the CDL skills test but have not yet obtained the CDL document from their home state.
The CDL holder also will have to remain in the vehicle but will not be required to sit in the front seat.
A filing on the Federal Register states that the 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.”
Werner contends that an exemption from this regulation will benefit the company and trucking industry in three ways: Improving efficiency of freight operations by maximizing driver employment during an historic driver shortage; creating immediate employment and compensation opportunities to qualified drivers; and improving the overall safety of the new driver experience, according to the Federal Register posting.
“Werner believes it will face a significant burden in all three areas if this exemption is not granted,” the post states.
“Werner asserts that 49 CFR 383.25(a)(1) has created a significant burden on its operations. Prior to the implementation of the regulation, a new driver’s State of domicile issued temporary CDLs to drivers who passed the CDL skills test. The temporary CDL made it possible for Werner to place the new driver as ‘on duty’ and route him or her to the state of domicile to obtain a CDL without entering a second driver into an ‘on duty’ status, thus allowing productive freight movement for Werner and compensation for the new driver.”
Werner officials said they believe that applying the exemption only to drivers who have passed the CDL skills test, hold a CLP, and operate the CMV under supervision of a CDL holder who is somewhere in the vehicle, will ensure an equivalent level of safety.
“Werner believes that there is no difference between the CLP holders who have passed the CDL skills test and other truck drivers on the road,” according to the Federal Register post.
“In fact, Werner notes that by allowing a CLP holder who has passed the CDL skills test out of State to drive en route to their State of domicile with a CDL holder present in the vehicle, safety will be improved over current regulations, which allow a 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) opposed the measure, calling it “another example of large carriers using the false premise of a driver shortage to get around safety regulations.”
OOIDA argues that there is not a driver shortage and contends the issue is a driver retention problem that could be fixed by improving pay and working conditions.
“In reality, evidence from the federal government and industry analysis show that driver turnover is the problem,” OOIDA wrote in comments signed by President Todd Spencer.
“For one, FMCSA estimates that over 400,000 new commercial driver’s licenses are issued every year. On top of that, the U.S. Department of Labor did not find any indications of a driver shortage when examining the issue in 2019. Instead, they identified the high turnover experienced by large carriers as one reason for the perception of a shortage.”
The Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC), American Trucking Associations (ATA), Idaho-Oregon Fruit and Vegetable Association, Truckload Carriers Association, truck drivers and some individuals submitted comments supporting Werner’s application for exemption.
For example, AgTC said, “The AgTC supports Werner’s application for exemption to allow commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders who have successfully passed the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test to be able to drive a CMV without having a CDL holder seated beside them in the CMV.”
The ATA stated, “Given the ongoing driver shortage, ATA is vitally interested in removing employment barriers to increase efficiency without hindering safety. As such, ATA appreciates the opportunity to comment on this important petition.
Specifically, ATA believes that granting Werner’s exemption would achieve an equivalent or greater level of safety, mitigate the impact of state driver’s licensing agency (SDLA) processing delays, address the needs of a mobile workforce, and minimize costs and burdens for the trucking industry.”
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