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Covenant Logistics, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is pursuing a two-year federal exemption to streamline the process of employing 2,000 new drivers. The company has informed regulators of this initiative.

The company, along with its logistics affiliate Landair Transport Inc., has submitted a petition to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). They are seeking permission to allow commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders who have passed a CDL skills test to drive a truck without an on-duty CDL holder present in the front passenger seat. This requirement is currently in place.

Challenges in Current Hiring Process

Currently, Covenant faces challenges in employing new drivers. This is because it cannot do so until the driver’s home state issues a CDL. This administrative delay forces the company to either wait for the physical CDL credential or send the driver home. It results in supply chain inefficiency and missed employment opportunities.

The company noted that before the front-seat requirement, states routinely issued temporary CDLs to qualified drivers. This allowed Covenant to designate new drivers as on duty immediately.

Potential Impact and Industry Response

If regulators grant the exemption, Covenant will join several other large trucking companies, including CRST and Wilson Logistics, in obtaining licensing flexibility. In 2016, CRST secured an exemption and successfully renewed it by demonstrating that the relaxed restrictions haven’t compromised safety as a result.

However, such exemptions might become unnecessary. This could happen if FMCSA proceeds with a pending rulemaking titled ‘Increased Flexibility for Testing and for Drivers after Passing the Skills Test. The proposed rule aims to loosen current CDL testing regulations. Therefore, it allows CLP holders to operate a truck without a CDL holder in the passenger seat, among other changes.

Despite potential benefits, the proposed rule faces opposition. Some owner-operators and truck safety advocates argue that rolling back driver testing regulations could increase crashes.