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Werner exempted from driver training provision

Werner Enterprises was granted more flexibility to seat drivers faster based on an exemption approved by federal regulators.

In a notice scheduled to be published on Thursday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ruled that Werner (NASDAQ: WERN) will not be required to have its commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders accompanied by commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders in the passenger seat.

Werner requested the exemption to allow its driver trainees who passed the CDL skills test —   but have not yet obtained the actual CDL document from their home state — to drive a truck without having a CDL holder in the passenger seat.

Under current regulations, “Werner must choose either to wait for the new driver to obtain a CDL from his or her home state before commencing freight movement in an ‘on duty’ status or send the new driver home in an unproductive non-driving capacity,” the company stated when it petitioned for the exemption last year. “The outcome is an inefficiency in the supply chain and a lost employment opportunity for the driver.”

In granting the Omaha, Nebraska-based truckload carriers request, FMCSA determined that the exemption “will likely achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level that would be achieved absent such exemption.”

FMCSA has granted similar exemptions to C.R. England, CRST Expedited and Wilson Logistics.

Werner asserted in its petition to the FMCSA that exempting it from the regulation would benefit Werner by maximizing driver employment during a “historic” driver shortage by creating immediate employment opportunities to qualified drivers.

In addition, because the CDL holder will remain in the vehicle at all times while the CLP holder is driving — just not in the front seat — Werner contends safety will actually be improved, because current regulations allow a new CDL holder to drive unsupervised immediately after receiving his or her CDL documentation.

But not all of the 25 commenters on Werner’s request agreed. “Werner’s exemption request fails to explain how the CLP holder will be adequately mentored if the CDL holder is not in the passenger seat,” wrote Todd Spencer, president and CEO of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“The inexperienced CLP holder does not yet meet the necessary standards to drive by themselves and therefore should not be operating a vehicle on the open road without supervision. Werner’s exemption request is another example of a large carrier using the false premise of a driver shortage to take advantage of safety regulations. In reality, evidence from the federal government and industry analysis show that driver turnover is the problem.”

Most commenters supported the waiver, however, including American Trucking Associations, the Truckload Carriers Association and the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC).

“The agriculture exports supply chain has been adversely affected by the truck driver shortage, and ag and forest products exporters need more truck drivers on the road as soon as possible,” stated AgTC Executive Director Peter Friedmann. “The exemption would boost operational productivity and get drivers employed faster.”

Not allowing the exemption, AgTC said, would lead to “down time in which drivers that have passed the CDL skills test cannot begin moving freight in a time where the supply chain, and ag and forest products exporters specifically, are in desperate need of more drivers to transport goods.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes UPS (No. 2), Werner Enterprises (No. 10), CRST (No. 20) and C.R. England (No. 27).