In March 2020, the president declared a national state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak. In response to the outbreak, the federal and state governments have put a number or travel restrictions and recommendations in place. While these guidelines and rules have greatly affected travel for most people—evidenced by the dramatic reduction in vehicular traffic—the role of commercial drivers in keeping supply chains moving has become even more important. In other words, commercial drivers provide an essential function that can’t be put on pause during these turbulent times.
In order to better enable drivers and transport companies to meet the increasing demand for their services, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)—under Emergency Declaration 2020-002—has temporarily eased some of the regulatory requirements for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operators. The temporary changes are aimed at making it quicker and easier for drivers to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and for current CDL holders to renew their licenses.
It’s important to note that all states have their own CMV regulations. While state laws often mirror federal regulations, there are sometimes important differences. This article covers the temporary changes to federal CDL and CMV regulations. However, it’s always important for drivers and transportation companies to also ensure compliance with state law.
Because many government agencies are closed or have limited their operations, the FMCSA has relaxed some of the testing requirements for CDL applicants.
Rule specifics vary by state, but CDL applications generally must obtain a CDL learner’s permit and hold the permit for at least 14 days prior to being able to test for a full CDL. The FMCSA has temporarily waived this 14-day waiting period. Permit holders normally can operate a CMV only while supervised by a licensed commercial driver in the passenger seat. However, due to social distancing recommendations, the supervising driver no longer has to sit in the passenger seat but must still be within the cab.
The FMCSA is also allowing commercial driving training schools to conduct some of the testing that normally must be completed at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the equivalent government agency. The temporary order also allows states to waive certain filing and fees and administer the driving test using remote observation like video conferencing.
CDL holders may find it difficult to renew their license or medical certification during the pandemic. Normally, operating a CMV with an expired CDL or medical certification can lead to fines and license revocation. However, the FMCSA has temporarily waived these penalties.
The FMCSA has authorized law enforcement to use discretion in the enforcement of certain commercial driving regulations. Generally, this discretion applies to CMVs providing assistance directly related to the pandemic, including the delivery of groceries, medical supplies, and other necessities. In other words, the FMCSA is permitting law enforcement to let some minor violations slide for commercial drivers who are providing essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic.