-  Source: Canva/NSTA

Source: Canva/NSTA

As most the readers of this column know, the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) undertook an initiative, along with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), back in 2021 to remove the “under the hood” portion of the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) skills test for school bus applicants.

To that end, NSTA formally applied for an exemption, in June 2022, for CDL applicants from the engine compartment component of the pre-trip vehicle skills testing requirement, known as the ‘‘under-the-hood’’ testing component, in 49 CFR 383.113(a)(1)(i).

The organization took this position because it became apparent that this area of the CDL process had become a palpable impediment to getting new (and hopefully younger) candidates into the school bus driver pool. In a recent meeting to discuss the CDL exemption, one school bus operator noted that the average age of his driver pool was 61 years of age, and this dynamic is not uncommon in our industry.

NSTA had successfully been granted three temporary 90-day UTH testing requirement waivers from January 2022 through June 2022, but as noted these were “temporary waivers” and many motor vehicle agencies around the country found it difficult to implement this measure because of its provisional nature. There would be extensive effort exerted for a stopgap measure. NSTA agreed with this position, but we also saw that states that did adopt the measure were seeing utilization, so something had to be done. This was particularly evident in New Jersey that saw a healthy number of driver candidates use the waiver and that has translated to a significant number of school-bus-only licenses issued in the Garden State.

Along the way, there have been detractors who argue there are safety concerns related to the adoption of this waiver by states, but that concern was addressed by FMCSA when it granted the NSTA exemption application on Oct. 27, 2022.

The agency stated:

“FMCSA determined that previous ‘under-the-hood’ waivers were likely to achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to the level of safety that would be obtained absent the waiver. The exemption would similarly achieve an equivalent level of safety. The exemption does not apply to the remaining elements of the pre-trip vehicle inspection components of the skills test, as set forth in 49 CFR 383.113(a)(1)(ii–ix).”

Overall, there have been 12 states that have adopted the waiver/exemption, with the latest being New York on Jan. 10, 2024, and the momentum continues.

Recently, NSTA has been made aware that several states are currently in various stages of advocacy with respect to bring the exemption to their area. Our coalition continues to grow with public and private operators, as well as parents all seeking a remedy to keep students on the big yellow bus. We are encouraged by this groundswell of support and want to take advantage of it – in order to make permanent and lasting change for students. As we all know, the yellow bus is the safest mode of transportation to get students to school safely, and this includes parents driving their children to school.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), children traveling on buses rather than traveling by car are 70 times more likely to get to school safely, and this statistic remains noteworthy in advocating for the UTH Exemption.

Over the next month, NSTA will file another application with FMCSA to further extend what is commonly known as the “NSTA exemption.” We have put together a “Myth vs. Fact” sheet that can dispel inaccuracies with respect to implementing this measure in your state. If you would like a copy or need assistance getting this initiative heard in your state, please reach out to me at president@yellowbuses.org.

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