Posted March 12, 2021

Keeping Drivers on the Road: New Regulations for 2021

By Grace Tino

It has been almost a year since COVID-19 took its full effects on the US economy, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) passed one of its first official responses to the supply chain challenges posed by the virus. On March 28th, 2020, the FMCSA passed a waiver that allowed commercial learner's permit holders to finish tests and operate amidst the shutdowns of the pandemic to help with heightened consumer demand. Since, the FMCSA has continuously adapted regulations to accommodate the challenges presented by the past year. Though the dispensing of vaccinations signal hope for the impending end of these times, respect for truckers and the invaluable work they perform will remain. Continuing this trend of making work more accessible to trucks, the FMCSA released several new regulations for the start of 2021.

The FMCSA was looking out for the future of drivers in 2021 by passing a waiver on December 15th, 2020, which continued its initial waiver allowing CDL and CPL drivers to extend their licensure duration before renewal is required. Due to the reduced staff in state licensing offices across the country, the trucking industry faced a potential backlog of drivers awaiting renewal before being able to work in the new year. The backlogs also prevent drivers from getting their necessary medical exams for licensure and employment. With the driver shortage already impacting the efficiency of essential companies and their supply chains, any more delays to keep the transportation workforce strong are critical to avoid.

The changes set forth in the official waiver included waiving the maximum periods of validity of CDLs and CPLs due for renewal March 1st, requirement of a medical examination if the CDL, CPL, or non-CDL holders have a valid medical examination that expired in September 2020 or later. The conditions of the waiver took effect January 1st, 2021 and had validity until February 28th. However, as the end date approached, the FMCSA felt that the leniencies allowed by the waiver would be useful to continue, as backlogs were not seeing enough reduction. With so many CDL and CLP holders still facing ongoing challenges renewing their licensures or updating medical exams, the risk for a worsened driver shortage persisted. The FMCSA's new extension on the waiving of renewals will last until May 28th. The full details and specifications of the waiver can be found here.

In addition to waiving renewals on CDL and CLP licensures in order to keep truckers on the road, the FMSCA also recently published a final rule regarding the testing of student drivers. The backlog of paperwork at licensing agencies, driver schools, and other bodies has also made it difficult for drivers to complete their training and get on the road. This final rule permits third-party testers to administer the CDL skills test to drivers who also have completed training. Previously, federal law restricted CDL skills tests to only state-authorized agencies; with the new ruling, states will be able to decide which third parties will be able to begin testing. Drivers will be able to avoid the backlog at state agencies and begin employment sooner, which is not only beneficial to drivers themselves but also to transportation companies combating driver shortages. This rule change became effective 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register in December 2020. For details on the rule, see the FMCSA's announcement here.

COVID-19 has been a concern for well over a year for professionals in the supply chain industry. While vaccinations and changing case numbers are signaling hope for the end of a chaotic era, many effects of the pandemic remain potent. The increase in consumer demand, need for medical supplies, and safety restrictions have all changed the driver profession dramatically. Truckers have been recognized heroes during these challenging times, and their work remains invaluable to keeping the country running. To keep drivers on the road, government bodies like the FMCSA have provided new regulations to make it easier for drivers to work or gain employment.

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