What started as a three-month waiver in January has at least tripled, as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that states will continue to be given the option to forego requiring the engine compartment component of the pre-trip vehicle inspection skills test, also known as “under the hood,” for commercial driver’s license applicants seeking the School Bus (S) and Passenger endorsements (P) as well as the Intrastate-only (K) restriction.
The waiver was issued in response to a request from the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) to address an emergency school bus driver shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The original waiver, which was issued on Jan. 3, was set to expire in March. FMCSA granted a 90-day extension just as the original was set to expire.
Following another waiver request sent by NSTA Executive Director Curt Macysyn, FMCSA, the agency announced the second 90-day extension through Sept. 30. The waiver is meant to further help with the recruitment of new school bus applicants, and the new extension covers school bus operations through peak hiring season and back-to-school time.
According to a statement from NSTA on Tuesday, the additional 90-days temporarily removes a potential barrier of entry for the pupil transportation industry in recruiting school bus drivers. “The waiver aligns the process of obtaining a CDL more closely with the responsibilities of a school bus driver,” the release states. “This extension will take contractors into the summer months, which is typically peak recruitment season for school bus drivers. FMCSA notes in the waiver that both industry experts and states report the ability to attract drivers can be negatively impacted by the CDL skills test.”
All other components of the written and road test must continue to be met.
In its advisory, the FMCSA stated that the school bus driver shortage remains an ongoing concern. “NSTA notes that the most intensive school bus driver recruitments efforts occur during July through September, and requests a waiver through peak recruitment season,” the release adds. “Industry representatives and states report that the engine compartment component of the CDL skills test has negatively affected their ability to attract school bus driver applicants. Ensuring the safe and reliable transportation of children to and from school is FMCSA’s paramount concern. FMCSA issues this waiver in response to the unique but nonemergency circumstances resulting from the existing school bus driver shortage.”
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FMCSA claims that the waiver will assist in alleviating the school bus driver shortage and result in an increase in overall safety. “The recent extension of the ‘Under the Hood’ waiver by FMCSA to encompass summer months provides welcome relief during our peak driver hiring season,” stated Carina Noble, NSTA president and vice president of communications for National Express. “We appreciate the support of FMCSA for their willingness to work with NSTA on solutions to the critical school bus driver shortage.”
Macysyn told School Transportation News that as of this report, eight states have implemented the waiver: Florida, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin.