CDL Testing and Licensing Procedures: Overview
The testing and licensing regulations of part 383 contain detailed procedures for anyone wishing to possess a CDL. As an initial note, those regulations were recently revised by the FMCSA, and substantially so. See 76 FR 26854 -26893 (May 9, 2011). The new part 383 establishes “new minimum federal standards for States to issue a commercial learner’s permit (CLP)” and requires CLP holders “to meet virtually the same requirements as those for a CDL holder, meaning that a driver holding a CLP will be subject to the same driver disqualification penalties that apply to a CDL holder.” 76 FR at 26854. The revised regulations were drafted to allow States to gradually implement the new procedural requirements that a driver applicant must fulfill. This is shown by the fact that they impose different requirements for CLPs issued before or after July 8, 2014, as well as for CDLs issued before or after January 30, 2012. The stated goal of the FMCSA in promulgating the new part 383 was to “enhance safety by ensuring that only qualified drivers are allowed to operate commercial motor vehicles on our nation’s highways.”
While in the typical case the rightful possession of a CDL is undisputed, it is nevertheless worthwhile to know what a driver must accomplish to obtain the license. Generally, a driver engaged in intrastate-only operation may be able to qualify for a CDL without meeting the driver qualification requirements of part 391, in particular the requirement of a physical exam and medical examiner’s certificate. Such drivers are subject to the specific driver qualification requirements of their respective states. Prior to the recent revision of part 383, a considerable amount of discretion was left to the States regarding the topics that could be covered within their respective versions of the knowledge and skills testing required to obtain a CDL. However, the new part 383 now mandates that States must include specific types of items as part of their knowledge and skills tests. A review of these items may be worthwhile in the right type of case, and, in any event, it is helpful for counsel to be generally familiar with the procedures that a driver must undergo to obtain a CDL.
CDL Testing Procedures
Subparts E through J of section 383 discuss CDL testing and licensing procedures, vehicle groups and endorsements, required knowledge and skills, testing methods, and the format of the actual CDL or CLP to be issued by the State. (Commercial Learner’s Permit). As touched on above, the particular requirements that driver applicants must comply with can differ depending on (1) whether they are applying for a CPL or CDL, (2) when they are applying, (3) whether they will operate in interstate or intrastate commerce, and/or (4) whether they are subject to some other exception in the regulations. Generally, however, a driver-applicant must do the following under the regulations governing CDL application, testing, and licensing:
1. Pass a knowledge test for the type motor vehicle the driver applicant will operate or expects to operate. (for commercial learner’s permit applications submitted prior to July 8, 2014); for commercial learner’s permit applications submitted after July 8, 2014). The driver applicant must correctly answer at least 80% of the questions in order to pass the test.
2. Pass a driving or skills test taken in a motor vehicle representative of the type the driver applicant will operate. The applicant must successfully 2. demonstrate he can perform the various skills set forth. These include:
a. basic pre-trip vehicle inspection skills;
b. basic vehicle control skills, and;
c. safe on-road driving skills.
3. Provide the State issuing the CDL with certain information, including name, date of birth, etc.(“Information on the CLP and CDL documents and applications”).
4. Certify that he or she operates or expects to operate in interstate or intrastate commerce and is therefore either subject to or exempt from the driver qualification requirements in part 391;
5. Provide the names of all states where the driver applicant has been licensed to drive any type of motor vehicle in the past ten years.
The regulations also hold that, prior to issuing a CDL to a driver applicant, a State must first:
1. Require the driver applicant to give the certify, pass the knowledge and skills tests, and provide
2. Check that the vehicle in which the driver applicant takes the skills test is the same type the driver will operate.
3. Check the driver applicant’s driving record to make certain that he or she is not subject to disqualification regulations, State law, or on some other grounds;
4. Require the driver to surrender their non-CDL driver’s license and CLP.
The regulations further require that the knowledge test cover 20 general areas, including:
1. Safe operations regulations.
a. These include:
a.i. motor vehicle inspection, repair, and maintenance requirements;
a.ii. the effects of fatigue, poor vision, hearing impairment, alcohol and drug use, and general health upon safe CMV operation;383.111(a)(1)
2. Safe vehicle control systems, i.e. “[t]he purpose and function of the controls and instruments commonly found on CMVs.”
3. CMV safety control systems.
a. This topic includes proper use of the vehicle’s safety systems such as lights, horn, mirrors, etc., as well as the correct procedures needed to use these safety systems in an emergency situation, e.g. skids and loss of brakes.
4. Basic control, i.e. “[t]he proper procedures for performing basic maneuvers,” including:
a. starting, warming up, and shutting down the engine;
b. putting the vehicle in motion and stopping;
c. braking in a straight line,
d. turning the vehicle, e.g. basic rules, off tracking, right/left turns and right curves.
5. Shifting rules and terms for common transmissions.
6. Backing procedures and rules for various maneuvers.
7. Visual search (i.e., looking ahead and to the sides, using mirrors, and seeing to the rear).
8. Communication principles and procedures, and the hazards of failing to signal properly.
9. Speed and space management.
10. Operating at night, on mountainous terrain, or in extreme driving conditions.
11. Hazard perceptions and clues for recognizing hazards, such as road characteristics and road user activities.
12. Emergency maneuvers and skid control and recovery.
13. Relationship of cargo to vehicle control, including principles of weight distribution and securement and the consequences of improperly secured cargo;
14. Vehicle inspections, including:
a. the importance of periodic inspection and repair to vehicle safety;
b. the effect of undiscovered malfunctions upon safety;
c. what safety-related parts to look for when inspecting vehicles;
d. pre-trip/enroute/and post-trip inspection procedures;
e. reporting findings.
15. Hazardous materials.
16. Fatigue and awareness.
a. Specifically, a driver applicant will be expected to know “[p]ractices that are important to staying alert and safe while driving,” including:
a.i. being prepared to drive;
a.ii. what to do when driving to avoid fatigue;
a.iii. what to do when sleepy while driving, and;
a.iv. what to do when becoming ill while driving.
In addition to knowledge of these general areas, driver applicants must also demonstrate that they are familiar with the ins and outs of air brake systems and combination vehicles.
Finally, the driver skills test requires that CDL applicants demonstrate that they possess the ability to perform the following with respect to the vehicle class that the driver operates or expects to operate:
1. Pre-trip vehicle inspections, including:
a. being able to identify each safety-related part on the vehicle and explain what needs to be inspected to ensure a safe operating condition of each part;
b. demonstrating skills with respect to inspect and operate air brakes;
2. Basic vehicle control skills, such as starting, accelerating, stopping, backing, turning, and shifting.
3. Safe on-road driving skills, including the ability to:
a. use proper visual search methods and observe the road and the behavior of other vehicles;
b. Signal appropriately when changing direction in traffic;
c. Adjust vehicle speed and operation to conform to road, weather, visibility, traffic, cargo, and driver conditions;
d. Position the vehicle correctly before and during turns to prevent other vehicles from passing on the wrong side, as well as to prevent problems caused by off-tracking;
e. Maintain a safe distance during operation and choose a safe gap for lane changes, passing, and crossing or entering traffic, and otherwise.