It is common knowledge that a shortage of qualified drivers is a chronic problem in the trucking industry. For instance, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) has estimated that there are 48,000 open jobs in the transportation industry and that figure will more than triple over the next decade. According to the ATA, although truck tonnage has increased substantially over the past decade, the number of people entering the job market to drive trucks is decreasing. While autonomous trucks may eventually help to alleviate this shortage, in the meantime the industry is facing a serious challenge.

Against this backdrop, in a move designed to help assist in reducing the shortage of drivers, the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has proposed simplifying the process and cost for certain individuals to obtain a commercial driver's license. Thus, on June 9, 2017, the FMCSA "announced two proposals that would take steps toward responding to a national shortage of qualified truck and bus drivers. These proposed processes would simplify obtaining a commercial driver's license (CDL) for many individuals and reduce administrative expenses to both the driver applicant and state driver licensing agencies."

Specifically, the notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) announced by the FMCSA has requested comment on the following proposed rules:

Military Licensing and State CDL Reciprocity: This proposed rule would allow State Driver Licensing Agencies to waive the CDL knowledge test for qualified veterans and active duty personnel, including National Guard and Reserves, seeking to obtain a civilian CDL. This waiver would simplify processing and reduce costs for states and for qualified individuals who are regularly employed, or were regularly employed within the last year, in a military position who have received training and operate commercial motor vehicles in the military. Since 2012, the FMCSA has allowed states to waive the CDL skill test requirement for qualified veterans and active duty personnel. More than 18,800 individuals have transitioned from their military service into U.S. civilian jobs as commercial truck and bus drivers under the waiver opportunity. The NPRM would allow states to also waive the requirements for a knowledge test for qualified individuals, thereby allowing current or former military drivers to transition more quickly from the armed forces to civilian driving careers.

Commercial Learner's Permit Validity: This proposed rule would allow states to issue a CDL learner's permit with an expiration date of up to one year, replacing the current six-month limitation. This extra flexibility is intended to eliminate burdensome and costly paperwork requirements by the states. It would also eliminate re-testing and additional fees presently incurred by individuals who seek an additional 180-day renewal of their CDL learner's permit.

According to FMCSA Deputy Administrator Daphne Jefferson, "[t]aken together, these two proposals will help ease the entry for thousands of qualified individuals into career opportunities as professional truck and bus drivers – a critical occupation facing an acute labor shortage in our country. We could eliminate unnecessary burdens to both the applicants and to the states, save time, reduce costs and, most importantly, ensure that states only issue commercial driver's licenses to well-trained, highly qualified individuals."

The NPRMs for the two proposed rules were published in the federal register on June 12, 2017, and comments are due on or before Aug. 11, 2017.