New Mexico, Utah near new rules on CDL testing

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/18/2014

Activity at the New Mexico and Utah statehouses would bring changes to commercial driver’s license testing.

The New Mexico Senate voted 32-8 to advance a bill to the House that gives prospective truckers more chances to pass testing. SB41 specifies that applicants can retake the knowledge portion of the test twice per week. State law now limits applicants to three exams per year.

The skills test would continue to be offered up to three times annually.

Advocates say that New Mexico law is outdated. They note that the state’s current limitations on the number of times and time frames was standard business practice more than five years ago.

An analysis notes that regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration don’t impose any limits on the number of times a person can test for a CDL, or the time frame for testing.

Opponents say the change could compromise highway safety by allowing “marginally qualified” commercial drivers to more easily obtain a CDL.

Removed from the bill was a provision that a CDL applicant who failed the skills test or knowledge test five times be required to complete a state-recognized commercial driver training program.

SB41 awaits further consideration in the House Judiciary Committee before it can move to the House floor. The House version, HB48, already passed the House on a 59-4 vote and is one vote away from heading to the full Senate.

Both chambers must approve one of the bills before the regular session ends on Thursday, Feb. 20, to send it to the governor’s desk.

In neighboring Utah, another bill would do away with the practice of issuing a temporary CDL to prospective truckers enrolled in a CDL driver training school in the state. The option would be removed after June 2015.

According to state estimates, the change would affect about 3,400 people each year.

Starting July 1, 2015, prospective truckers in Utah must hold a commercial driver instruction permit for at least 14 days before taking the skills tests. The requirement would also apply to someone who is upgrading a CDL class or endorsement requiring a skills test.

Sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, the bill would also prohibit CDLs from being issued to people under 18 years of age at the time of application. Affected applicants would be required to be at least 18 years old to apply for a commercial driver instruction permit.

The bill, SB30, is in the Senate Transportation and Public Utilities and Technology Committee.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says the biggest safety gap in the trucking industry is the lack of basic training standards for new drivers.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said that current safety regulations do not include training requirements for becoming a long-haul trucker, despite a congressional requirement for such standards. While new drivers must pass a CDL test, testing covers only basic operations and does not address the many on-the-road demands faced by truckers or the hundreds of regulations they are responsible for following.

“Better trained drivers mean safer drivers,” Spencer said.

The Association recently launched a campaign to address the issue. For more details, click here.

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