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FMCSA to consider easing CDL rule for truck driver trainees

WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is considering loosening restrictions on its apprenticeship pilot program for 18-20-year-old drivers to allow them in the program without holding a CDL.

A CDL is currently one of the prerequisites for younger drivers looking to be trained by a carrier under the FMCSA’s Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot (SDAP), a program created as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was signed into law in 2021.

However, a recent request from less-than-truckload specialist Pitt Ohio asking that the CDL restriction be lifted for its trainee drivers has prompted FMCSA to consider lifting the restriction for all carriers that are in or want to register for the program.

“If granted, Pitt Ohio believes it would have less difficulty recruiting drivers to participate in the program,” according to a notice the agency plans to publish on Thursday.

“FMCSA also seeks comment on whether this exemption should be limited to Pitt Ohio, or whether it should be drafted to apply to any SDAP program participating motor carrier that is currently listed as a certified training provider for purposes of the [regulations], or that enters into a partnership with a certified training provider.”

FMCSA states in the notice that granting the Pittsburgh, Ohio-based company an exemption of the CDL requirement would allow the company to use commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders in the SDAP program.

However, those CLP holders “would still need to meet all the remaining apprentice requirements, as well as the existing regulatory requirements for CLP holders,” FMCSA noted. Among those are having a valid CDL holder in the passenger seat during training. Pitt Ohio estimates 25 CLP holders would operate under the exemption per year.

FMCSA’s proposal to ease the SDAP requirements is not a surprise given that the number of participants in the program is “far short” of the up to 3,000 apprentices that the federal government was initially seeking, according to Tim Kordula, who runs Karl’s Transport Commercial Driver CDL Training School, an affiliate of Antigo, Wisconsin-based Karl’s Transport.

Kordula, an early participant in the program and a big supporter, “completely agrees” with the exemption Pitt Ohio is seeking.

“I know they have a training facility so they already have the students in class as we do, so this would be a huge plus to enroll them while still holding the CLP to get the jump-start on the SDAP,” Kordula told FreightWaves. “I think it would be a huge benefit for the program if FMCSA broadened the exemption for everybody.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.