For the next three months, new school bus driver applicants might not need to identify engine components while testing to obtain their commercial driver’s licenses.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced on Tuesday that states may waive the engine compartment component of the pre-trip vehicle inspection skills testing requirement, 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 is in response to COVID-19 pandemic and driver shortages.
States are not required to waive the requirements that school bus driver candidates identify the “under-the-hood” engine components. However, all other CDL skills testing requirements remain in place.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) stated via a press release that drivers who are issued a CDL under this waiver are restricted to the intrastate operation of school buses only, and are not permitted to drive trucks, motorcoaches or any other commercial vehicle requiring a CDL. The waiver took effect on Monday and expires March 31.
Additionally, the FMCSA is waiving the requirement that states must administer this portion of the pre-trip vehicle inspection test. The waiver was reportedly issued “in response to multiple requests that the Agency provide regulatory relief to address the growing shortage of school bus drivers, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 public health emergency,” FMCSA stated.
“This federal waiver will help communities that are short on school bus drivers,” added Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in the release. “By allowing states to focus on the testing requirements that are critical to safety, we will get additional, qualified drivers behind the wheel to get kids to school safely.”
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona stated that the waiver aims to alleviate some of the labor shortages that schools are facing so that schools can remain fully open for in-person education.
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“This administration is listening to the needs of school communities and remains committed to making sure schools are open safely for in-person learning full time,” he explained. “We’ve heard from educators and parents that labor shortages, particularly of bus drivers, are a roadblock to keeping kids in schools. Today’s announcement will give states the flexibility they need to help increase the pool of drivers, who are a key part of the school community, and get kids to school safely each day where students learn best. And American Rescue Plan funds can be used to hire these critical staff, including offering increased compensation or other incentives to recruit and retain staff.”
FMCSA Deputy Administrator Meera Joshi added that the waiver temporarily giving states the option to modify the school bus test “widens the pool of possible drivers to fill this critical role without compromising our vital safety standards.”
Meanwhile, Ronna Weber, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services told School Transportation News, that “NASDPTS would like to thank the DOE and the FMCSA for their consideration of the school bus driver shortage and their willingness to offer solutions to the industry.”