Spring 2019

Changes to Driver Qualifications

The commercial transportation industry continues to experience a shortage of qualified drivers and the issue has risen to one of the industry’s top concerns. The driver shortage can be attributed to a multitude of factors, including continued industry expansion and retirement of older drivers without sufficient interest from younger potential drivers to replace them.  In an effort to combat the driver shortage plaguing the commercial transportation industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) has implemented a number of changes to driver qualifications with the goal of increasing the number of individuals who qualify to become commercial drivers.

One such recent change relates to the requirements of a driver’s physical health. Previously, insulin-dependent diabetic drivers were prohibited from operating commercial vehicles in interstate commerce without an exemption from FMCSA.  However, the FMCSA recently issued a final rule to allow certified medical examiners the discretion to decide whether an insulin-dependent diabetic driver is qualified to drive without seeking an exemption.  Beginning November 19, 2018, medical examiners are now able to issue a diabetic driver a one-year medical certification if the driver’s primary health care provider submits a completed assessment form indicating the individual maintains a stable insulin regimen and proper control of his/her diabetes to the medical examiner.

In addition to changes in regulations related to a driver’s physical health, the increased shortage of drivers has led to a rejuvenated push to lower the CDL age requirement.  Under current law, individuals must be at least 21 to drive a commercial vehicle interstate; however, some states allow individuals under 21 to driver intrastate. In March 2018, the DRIVE-Safe Act was introduced in the House of Representatives and introduced in August 2018 in the Senate. The DRIVE-Safe Act would allow individuals age 18 to 20 who possess a CDL to drive interstate upon completion of 240 hours of on-the-road experience with an experienced truck driver and certain safety features such as automatic active-breaking systems.  The DOT is also launching a three-year pilot program to permit individuals age 18 to 20 who possess the U.S. Military equivalent of a CDL to operate large trucks in interstate commerce.

While the FMCSA is looking to increase the number of qualified drivers, it is also maintaining its focus on ensuring that drivers are adhering to established safety regulations and standards.  Part of ensuring safe roadways is ensuring that commercial drivers are free from drugs and alcohol.  To that end, commercial drivers are required to undergo drug tests, including pre-employment, random, and, under some circumstances, post-accident drug tests.  As of January 1, 2018, four new drugs have been added to the DOT drug testing panel requirements: hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and oxycodone.

Currently, urinalysis is the only federally-approved drug testing method for commercial drivers. However, the FMCSA is moving towards permitting drug testing through hair sampling. Proponents of the hair sampling method point to the method’s longer detection window, increased accuracy, and decreased ability to cheat the drug test as benefits. On October 28, 2018, President Trump signed into law the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act which directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide an estimated date for completion of the final guidelines for hair follicle drug testing under the FMCSR.  Although the precise situations in which the hair sampling method will be permitted and the precise guidelines for same are not yet determined, it is clear that hair sampling will soon be a permissible drug testing method in at least some circumstances under the FMCSR.

For more information regarding this article, please contact Ellen Stewart at 410.230.2670 or