COVID-19 Resource Center

April 16, 2020

COVID-19: FMCSA Provides New Guidance for SDLAs and Commercial Drivers

On April 13, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published an updated list of responses to frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding actions that a State Driver Licensing Agency (SDLA) or a commercial driver’s license holder may take during the public health emergency related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) that are permissible under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

A complete list of the fifteen questions1 is attached to this Alert, but the following summarizes the key points of the FMCSA’s new guidance. 

Commercial Driver’s Licenses and Commercial Learner’s Permits

As to State issuance of Commercial Learner’s Permits (CLPs) and Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs), the FMCSA’s Emergency Declaration does not exempt States from the regulatory requirements in 49 CFR parts 383 (CDL standards) and 384 (State Compliance with CDL program) because the Emergency Declaration issued by the FMCSA is only applicable to 49 CFR parts 390 through 399.

States may use contractors to issue or renew CLP credentials, because the FMCSRs do not prohibit an SDLA from using a contractor to issue or renew CLP credentials.  The SDLA must ensure compliance with the requirements relating to the issuance and renewal of the CLP, including checking the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS). 

There will be a grace period for States that extend expiration dates for CDLs or CLPs and for States that do not to change the medical certification status to “not certified” or downgrade a CDL or CLP driver whose Medical Examiner’s Certificate has expired, but the FMCSA expects SDLAs to bring their CDL and CLP issuance and medical certification practices back into compliance with the FMCSRs within 90 days after the end of the national emergency or within 90 days of when the SDLA resumes normal operations, whichever is sooner.

If an SDLA issues restricted or temporary CDLs for drivers in farm-related service industries during the harvesting season, it may issue paper credentials, because the FMCSRs do not require SDLAs to issue plastic licensing credentials.  However, SDLAs must issue licensing credentials in accordance with the requirements of 49 CFR part 383, subpart J.

If an SDLA renews a CLP or CDL online, it may keep the same photograph for an additional renewal cycle, because the FMCSRs do not prohibit SDLAs from reusing the driver’s photo from the previous CLP/CDL.  

Endorsements to Commercial Driver’s Licenses

If an SDLA renews a CDL online during the COVID-19 public health emergency and the driver holds a Hazardous Materials (HM) endorsement, it cannot also renew the HM endorsement without requiring the driver to retake the HM knowledge test.  The FMCSA has not issued a waiver or an exemption from the requirement to retake the HM knowledge test in accordance with 49 CFR 383.71(d)(3) and 383.73(d)(4). 

During the COVID-19 public health emergency, an SDLA cannot issue a double or triple trailer endorsement without requiring a driver to pass the required knowledge test because the FMCSA has not issued a waiver or exemption from this requirement under 49 CFR 383.93.

Medical Examiner’s Certificates (MEC)

During the COVID-19 public health emergency, an SDLA cannot issue a CLP or CDL to a new driver applicant who has never held a Medical Examiner’s Certificate.   Driver applicants who have never held a CLP or CDL must meet all the qualification requirements of 49 CFR part 383.  The FMCSA’s waiver, issued on March 24, 2020, only applies to drivers with an expired medical certificate if the driver had a medical certificate issued for a period of 90 days or longer and expired on or after March 1, 2020. 

If an SDLA’s computer system automatically changes a driver’s medical certification status from “certified” to “not certified” or automatically downgrades a driver’s CDL or CLP when the driver’s Medical Examiner’s Certificate expires, the driver may continue operating a CMV in commerce during the COVID-19 public health emergency, but only if FMCSA’s waiver, issued on March 24, 2020, applies. 

Testing of CDL/CLP Applicants

Under FMCSA’s Emergency Declaration, an SDLA cannot issue a CLP or CDL to a driver without requiring the driver to take the required knowledge and skills tests, because the Emergency Declaration is only applicable to 49 CFR parts 390 through 399. In accordance with 49 CFR 384.202, the State shall only issue a CLP or CDL to a driver who has passed the knowledge and skills tests required by part 383.  

In light of the current COVID-19 public health emergency and the need to comply with social distancing guidelines, States may leverage technology to administer the CDL knowledge and skills tests in a way that allows the examiners to not be physically present with the applicant during testing.

The FMCSRs provide that SDLAs must administer tests using a test examiner information manual that FMCSA determines is comparable to American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrator’s (AAMVA’s) 2005 CDL Test System Model CDL Manual (AAMVA Model).  The AAMVA Model specifies that to complete the on-road segment of the skills test, the examiner must observe a driver applicant’s operation of the vehicle and provide instruction.  Similarly, the AAMVA Model requires a proctor to be with the applicant while taking the knowledge test. However, the FMCSA is encouraging SDLAs to test applicants while practicing social distancing.  As such, FMCSA requests States that wish to administer the knowledge and skills tests without the examiner being physically present with the applicant submit a plan to the Agency and explain how their administration of the test will be comparable to the AAMVA model.  The FMCSA will consider such plans until June 30, 2020.

If you have any questions about these developments, or the transportation industry in general, please contact our Firm’s Transportation Practice Group leaders, Matt Mitchell, mmitchell@c-wlaw.com, or Bill Pentecost, wpentecost@c-wlaw.com

 

 

 

 

Sources

1 The FMCSA added the following disclaimer to its presentation of the 15 FAQs:

This guidance document does not have the force and effect of law and is not meant to bind the public in any way.  This guidance is intended only to provide clarity regarding existing requirements under the law.

See https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/emergency/expanded-frequently-asked-questions-...