The FMCSA Did the Right Thing When It Comes to CDLs

Some states want to be exempt from the CDL skills test. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) believes that the skills test is absolutely necessary when it comes to safety.

This was the right thing to do, as there are certain skills that semi-truck drivers must possess before they get behind the wheel of a large and powerful vehicle.

The FMCSA recently denied a state’s petition for exemption from the CDL skills test

Florida recently requested an exemption from the three-part skills test, a requirement for a CDL. Florida wanted prospective truck drivers to be able to continue with skills tests even if they failed previous parts. This means that instead of returning at another date to retake all three parts again, they need to retake the parts they failed. The state believes that by allowing this, they may be able to address the truck driver shortage and encourage more people to get their CDLs. However, the FMCSA believes that the current rules do not need to be changed and are necessary for safety.

What is the CDL skills test?

The CDL skills test consists of three important sections: Pre-trip inspection, basic vehicle control skills, and on-road skills. These sections must be taken and passed in this order, or the applicant will need to retake all three; if the individual passes the pre-trip inspection and the basic vehicle control skills sections but fails the on-road skills section, for example, they will be required to return a different day to pass all three sections.

Why are the three sections of skills on the CDL test necessary?

Sue Lawless, the FMCSA Acting Deputy Administrator, stated that denying Florida’s petition “is the best practice for the safety of the CDL applicant, the examiner, and any motorists who must share the public roadway with the CDL applicant during the on-road portion of the CDL skills test.” These three sections are absolutely necessary and must be passed in the required order. Truck drivers need to know the proper protocols and maneuvers before their massive vehicles share the roadways with other drivers. The following are a few of the skills that individuals must accurately explain or demonstrate proficiency in to pass the CDL test:

  • What to do at a scale
  • How to properly secure your cargo
  • How to chain up the load
  • How to check the engine, brakes, and trailer
  • How to back up in a straight line
  • How to perform an alley dock maneuver
  • How to perform forward offset tracking

The pre-trip skills test shows that an individual knows how to inspect their truck before every trip, identify any issues, and ensure that the truck is safe to drive. The examiner will usually walk around the truck while the applicant explains each part of the truck. The basic vehicle control skills and on-road skills tests show how the driver reacts in certain situations like lane changes, rural roads, busy highways, railroad crossings, intersections, and more.

The examiner will assess the driver’s ability to make turns, obey the law, user turn signals, follow traffic signs and signals, and more. They will also assess control of the vehicle and interactions with traffic. If the driver cannot operate the truck in a safe manner, they will fail the CDL skills test.

The dangers of unprepared and inexperienced truck drivers

If the FMCSA granted Florida the exemption, that means more unprepared and inexperienced truck drivers on our roadways. Unprepared truck drivers are dangerous, because they are at a high risk of causing truck accidents compared to experienced truck drivers. Truck driving requires attention, knowledge, and skill to control  a large vehicle. When truck drivers are not properly trained, they create hazards on the roadway, potentially injuring or killing themselves or other drivers. Specific dangers of unprepared/ inexperienced truck drivers include:

  • Forgetting to check their truck and cargo before the trip or skip necessary steps to identify any issues
  • Inability to respond to an emergency situation or inclement weather conditions
  • Loss of control of the vehicle
  • Failure to give other drivers enough room
  • Distracted driving or inattention
  • Careless driving (overreacting, failing to stay in their lane, braking too fast, or turning too sharp)
  • Violating traffic laws
  • Failure to check blind spots before turning, changing lanes, or merging.

Other requirements for a CDL in Washington, DC

In Washington, DC, there are additional requirements individuals must meet to receive a CDL, such as:

  • Be 21 years of age or older
  • Possess a NCDL (non-commercial driver’s license)
  • Be a US Citizen or a non-US citizen with a resident card
  • Provide a driver history report that shows driving history for all states over the last 10 years
  • Possess a Department of Transportation medical certification card

Intrastate CDLs allow driving a semi-truck only in Washington, DC. In order to receive an intrastate CDL, you must be 18 years of age or older and show at least two years of satisfactory driving history.

CDL requirements are common sense. While the national truck driver shortage is an important issue, allowing inexperienced or unprepared truck drivers to put drivers, passengers, and pedestrians at risk is not the answer. When negligent truck drivers or their employers cause someone harm on the roadways, an attorney can hold them accountable.

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