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US eases truck driver testing rules for veterans

William B. Cassidy | JOC

US regulators are making it easier for military veterans to get jobs driving trucks by simplifying the process for veterans to obtain commercial driver learner’s permits or licenses. The rule change is meant to help tens of thousands of people trained to drive trucks for the military quickly find civilian jobs and to alleviate the long-term shortage of qualified truck drivers in the United States.

Under a final rule released Wednesday, veterans will have one year after leaving a military position to apply for a skills test waiver to obtain either a learner’s permit or CDL. The rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also allows states to accept applications from active duty military personnel resident in other states and to administer written and skills tests.

States that choose to accept such applications would have to transmit the test results electronically to the state where the veteran or active service member lives. That will help members of the armed forces find civilian work in trucking before they are discharged, eliminating a “waiting period” and getting them a paycheck and a truck as soon as possible.

The final rule cements temporary extensions for the deadline of the skill test application — which the FMCSA has issued since 2014 — from 90 days to one year. The second change “enables service members to complete their licensing requirements without incurring the time and expense of returning to their state of domicile,” the agency said in its Federal Register notice.

Over the five years from 2014 to 2019, more than 1 million people are expected to be discharged from the US armed forces. Trucking wants to put some of those veterans behind a wheel. In 2014, the American Trucking Associations and its member carriers committed to hiring 100,000 veterans, working with the US Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes campaign.

Allowing active duty members of the military to take CDL tests while they’re still stationed outside their home state is important because to recruit veterans, “you need to get to them at the installation where they’re serving,” while they’re still enlisted, Paul Thompson, a former US Army First Sergeant and now a recruiter for US Xpress Enterprises, said at a 2014 ATA event.

With the US economic recovery flagging in its seventh year, and truck shipping volumes and revenue down, the driver shortage isn’t drawing the attention it did in 2014, when tight capacity pushed up truck pricing. But the underlying driver recruiting problems haven’t gone away.

Trucking executives insist the shortage has been “masked” by the economic slowdown in 2015 and particularly 2016, and will reemerge as a key issue when business picks up. That’s one reason trucking companies are keen to “onboard” veterans with military driving experience.