fromTroopstoCivilians tall

August 2012

How AAMVA, FMCSA and state DMVs are helping to smooth this sometimes challenging transition.

A federal regulation finalized in May 2011 granted individual states the authority to waive the Commercial Driver License (CDL) road skills test for recently discharged service members who drove commercial vehicles in the military. Twenty-two states have taken advantage of this new rule, helping ex-military personnel transition back into life as civilians and find jobs in the transportation and construction industries.

In order to qualify for this skills test exemption, discharged service members must be able to certify that they have:

  • safe driving records;
  • driven comparable vehicles in the military for at least the two years immediately preceding military discharge;
  • not held more than one license (besides a military driver’s license) in the past two years;
  • not had their state-issued driver’s license suspended, revoked or cancelled;
  • not had any disqualifying convictions driving a motor vehicle; received commander’s certification while still in the service; and
  • were discharged from the military within 90 days of applying for the skills test waiver.

Before this recent revision to the Commercial Learner’s Permit rule by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) went into effect, the waiver of the CDL skills test was not unique to the military; previously, states had the authority to waive the road test for any qualified driver.

“When the CDL program started [in April of 1992], that substitute for driver’s skills test section was put in [the rules] to allow states to get the initial rush of their CDL drivers who had been driving into the actual CDL program,” says Karen Morton, program director of driver licensing at AAMVA.

In 2008, FMCSA announced its plans to remove this provision from the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, which in turn would have revoked the authority of states to waive the skills test for any CDL applicant. But upon this notice of proposed rule making, FMCSA received so many comments and petitions for reconsideration that it decided to change the regulation so that it only applies to ex-military personnel, Morton says.

Working with FMCSA, the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense, Morton helped develop a standardized form for states to adopt and use as the skills test waiver. “Our intent was to develop one standardized form to be utilized by state driver’s license agencies and all branches of the armed forces,” she adds.

The biggest problems states have with waiving the skills test is thinking that military members aren’t properly trained to operate civilian commercial vehicles and that they don’t have the necessary experience. So Morton and others took a trip to Fort Meade to decide which military vehicles equated to civilian ones. They also evaluated and approved the military’s training standards.

Morton says all of these concerns are now addressed on the standardized Application for Military Skills Test Waiver form. Presently, eight more states are in the process of working to accept a military skills test waiver. And Morton, along with FMCSA and the Department of Defense, is encouraging other jurisdictions to adopt this form and do the same.

The Next Step

The Presidential Task Force on Veterans Employment, which was established to help veterans find jobs in the civilian workplace, finds that driving commercial vehicles is a job many ex-military personnel are trained in. So in addition to waiving the CDL skills test for former service members, some states are going a step further and developing programs to help ex-military members who hold CDLs obtain employment.

One such program, Virginia’s “Troops to Trucks,” recently went into effect on July 1, 2012. The initiative results from collaboration between the DMV, the military and employers in the transportation industry.

Under Troops to Trucks, the Virginia DMV waives the skills test for military CDL holders. Additionally, the DMV partners with trucking and bus companies throughout the commonwealth to help these service members find jobs. “We take that extra step and actually get the marine or soldier to fill out a placement questionnaire that we then give to an actual trucking company or bus company through the trade associations [with which we work]. We can actually get the qualified candidate before a potential employer,” says Rick Holcomb, Virginia DMV commissioner.

“There may be folks who are within a certain amount of time of discharge who are looking and saying, ‘Gosh, driving a commercial vehicle would be a good post-military profession, so I’d like to go through this training,’” Holcomb says. “Truck driving and bus driving jobs pay a good salary. We think this will be very attractive, and it will give the military people the certification and license that are necessary to get those good paying jobs out in the civilian world.”

The Connecticut DMV likewise works with “Helmets to Hardhats,” a national program that assists veterans with finding employment after military discharge. The state first began offering the skills test waiver through the Helmets to Hardhats program in 2008 after being contacted by a representative from the organization. Joseph Ciotto, division manager of the Driver Education Unit at the Connecticut Department of Transportation, estimates three to four ex-military members apply for the skills test waiver each month.

“Our goal in offering the program is to help veterans who have sacrificed so much through service to our country by making it a little easier to obtain a CDL,” says Ciotto. “The applicant must provide proof that he or she drove a military vehicle that is representative of the commercial license class for at least two years prior to the application and must pass all required knowledge tests for the representative vehicle. The waiver does not apply to requirements for school bus nor hazardous materials.”

The biggest challenge Ciotto faced when implementing the program was developing a proper procedure. “We wanted to be sure what we offered complied with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations,” he says.

North Dakota is yet another state that offers the CDL skills test waiver for ex-military personnel. This state’s program, which began Jan. 1, 2012, is unique in that its process involves the postal system. First, the service member applicant mails the skills test waiver form and the required “military letter” to the Drivers License Central Office in Bismarck. Next, an employee there reviews it for eligibility and mails an approval letter to the military member. The applicant then can present the approval letter at any DMV office, where the CDL can be issued.

“North Dakota has an oil boom going on, and there is a definite need for CDL drivers,” says Syndi Worrel, chief examiner, Drivers License Division, North Dakota Department of Transportation. “When you have individuals who have had the experience and the training that the military provides … If we can trust that [they would be safe drivers], then why would we want to put any other type of roadblock in their way from getting a CDL and being employable—especially coming out of the military?”

AAMVA, in conjunction with FMCSA and the Department of Defense, is in the process of setting up a webinar for all jurisdictions to learn about the Military Skills Test Waiver form. “We are going to go ahead and explain to all the states that this is the new form, and these are the best practices that we are recommending surrounding its use,” Morton says. “And FMCSA is going to say that if you use this form, you will not have a compliance issue as far as the CDL audit goes.”