In my last column, I shared that the NSTA Advocacy Team enjoyed a string of victories over the past two years, as private school bus operators responded to the challenges of the COVID‐19 pandemic. As we begin 2022, I’m really pleased to say our streak continues with the Jan. 3, 2022, announcement by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) of a temporary waiver – designed specifically to address the school bus driver shortage.

FMCSA issued a temporary waiver covering the period from Jan. 3, 2022, through March 31, 2022. In its edict, FMCSA states:

“FMCSA permits, but does not require, States to waive the engine compartment component of the pre‐trip vehicle inspection skills testing requirement in 49 CFR § 383.113(a)(1)(i), also known informally as the ‘under‐the‐hood’ component, for commercial driver’s license (CDL) applicants seeking the School bus (S) and Passenger (P) endorsements and the Intrastate only (K) restriction. Drivers issued a CDL pursuant to this waiver are restricted to the intrastate operation of school buses only. Additionally, FMCSA waives the requirement in 49 CFR § 383.133(c)(1) that States administer this portion of the pre‐trip vehicle inspection test in accordance with an FMCSA pre‐approved examiner information manual. FMCSA issues this waiver in response to multiple requests that the Agency provide regulatory relief to address the growing shortage of school bus drivers, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus 2019 (COVID‐19) public health emergency.”

In 2020, NSTA asked FMCSA for a review of the Commercial Drivers’ License (CDL) process, specifically referencing the “under‐the‐hood” provision, as we sensed the effects of the pandemic would severely affect our bus driver pool. Anecdotally, our members have seen school bus driver candidates not complete the CDL process due to the existence of the “under‐the‐hood” testing requirement. Upon further scrutiny, as an organization, we carefully considered the direct alignment of this requirement with responsibilities of the school bus driver position. We believed that there would be no net loss of safety to students, drivers, and the general motoring public by removing this requirement.

Obviously, we are pleased that FMCSA has taken this action, and now the immediate focus turns to ensuring that states adopt this waiver, and use the flexibility it offers to school bus operators. Unfortunately, we have already heard from several states that, due to the compressed three‐month window for which this waiver applies, they will not be adopting and implementing it. This is unfortunate for two reasons: 1. FMCSA will review the usage analytics of the waiver to determine whether to extend the temporary waiver, or in the best‐case scenario, make it permanent; and 2. States that do not adopt the waiver cannot provide school bus operators a potential solution to help address their driver shortage.

I urge everyone who agrees with this waiver to contact his or her respective State Drivers’ License Agency (SDLA) or Motor Vehicle Agency, as well as state policy‐makers to discuss the importance of it being adopted.

In terms of some background, keep in mind that states issuing CDLs pursuant to this waiver must abide by some conditions including:

  • States must individually adopt this waiver in order for it to become effective;
  • Applicants licensed under to provisions of the temporary waiver will maintain a “K” restricted (school bus license) until that license expires;
  • This waiver applies only to the intrastate operation of school buses used to transport students from home to school, from school to home, or to and from school‐sponsored events.

NSTA will continue to engage on this important issue, and we would like to publicly thank FMCSA for hearing our concerns and acting upon them in a tangible way.