Drivers could face hurdles in renewing CDL, DOT medical card

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Note: This post has been updated to reflect an enforcement waiver issued Tuesday from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation for drivers with expiring licenses and medical certificates. 

Recent closures at various state departments of motor vehicles (DMV) can make renewing a commercial license and filing an updated medical certificate more complicated than normal.

Only 10 states have not closed at least some of their DMV offices or otherwise shifted how they do business. The remaining 40 states and Washington D.C. have either closed some DMV field offices, have pushed all transactions online or are conducting business by appointment only.

A license that has been expired for more than a given number of days as determined by the issuing state – usually either 30 or 60 days – can mean starting over with taking and passing both the knowledge and the road skills tests, and you can’t legally operate a commercial vehicle with an expired license.

“I was recently on a conference call with some U.S. Senators and Congressmen and know that this has been brought to their attention,” Brad Klepper, President of Drivers Legal Plan, said of potential issues updating med cert cards or renewing CDLs.

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Some states, in response to a pending log jam of expiring medical cards and licenses, have issued an extension to their expiration grace period, but 17 states with affected offices have yet to do so.

For example, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued an automatic 90-day extension this week for expiring driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and other DMV documents with an expiration date of March 16 through April 30.

“No one is going to face a penalty because they are unable to complete a DMV transaction,” said DMV Director Julie Butler. “At the same time, however, we’re encouraging customers to complete their business online, if at all possible, to help avoid backlogs once services are fully restored.”

A joint statement issued Monday from American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear and Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance Executive Director Collin Mooney said the two agencies “are committed to doing what they can to ensure the smooth flow of goods and services to all of the people and places affected by this global pandemic and national emergency.”

“In light of these statements,” Klepper opined, “I would think that enforcement – and the courts – would be understanding if a driver who is qualified is unable to renew his CDL because the state office is closed. With that being said, all drivers should renew their CDL as soon as possible once that option becomes available.”

Tuesday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation formally agreed with Klepper’s assessment and issued a temporary waiver for some commercial vehicle drivers to address disruptions in licensing and other requirements as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today’s announcement includes a “Notice of Enforcement Policy” and “Waiver” regarding expiring driver’s licenses and medical examiner’s certificates – for drivers who had current credentials as of March 1 – allowing FMCSA to exercise its enforcement discretion to not take enforcement action in certain cases when a commercial learners’ permit, CDL or Medical Certificate is expired. This is not a blanket exemption from the CLP, CDL and/or Medical Certificate requirements, and drivers and carriers should review the details of the waiver to ensure their operations qualify.

ATA Vice President of Safety Policy Dan Horvath said his agency would remain in close contact with FMCSA and other agencies to address other issues, such as availability of drug and alcohol testing for new drivers, as they arise.