CDLs: We Should All Be Ashamed — Part 2

This is the second of two parts discussing the issue of the fire-rescue service and commercial driver's licenses (CDLs). Part one, in the July 2009 issue, presented information from the federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Information for this...


This is the second of two parts discussing the issue of the fire-rescue service and commercial driver's licenses (CDLs). Part one, in the July 2009 issue, presented information from the federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Information for this column comes from a variety of sources...


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This is the second of two parts discussing the issue of the fire-rescue service and commercial driver's licenses (CDLs). Part one, in the July 2009 issue, presented information from the federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Information for this column comes from a variety of sources, including the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).

Endorsements & Restrictions

Drivers who operate special types of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) must pass additional tests to obtain the following endorsements on their CDLs:

T — Double/triple trailers (knowledge test only)

P — Passenger (knowledge and skills tests)

N — Tank vehicle (knowledge test only)

H — Hazardous materials (knowledge test only)

X — Combination of tank vehicle and hazardous materials

According to the safety act, a driver who fails the air-brake component of the general-knowledge test or performs the skills test in a vehicle not equipped with air brakes is issued an air-brake restriction, barring the driver from operating a CMV equipped with air brakes.

Up to now, I do not think that the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act has asked anyone to do anything that would seem to be unreasonable. In fact, ridding the road of bad drivers is a cause that we all could and should support.

Waiver Provisions

The act says, "All active-duty military drivers were waived from the CDL requirements by the Federal Highway Administrator. A state, at its discretion, may waive firefighters, emergency response vehicle drivers, farmers, and drivers removing snow and ice in small communities from the CDL requirements, subject to certain conditions."

The creators of this piece of legislation chose to offer waivers to some groups. The first was the military. Although we do not advocate exemptions from the very safety rules meant to keep the roads safer for everyone, if you understand the amount of training that a military commercial vehicle operator must undergo, this provision is completely understandable. We have friends in the military and its driver certification for large vehicles is a model for the rest of us.

The next group who could be waived and exempted is comprised of firefighters. Two states choose not to waive firefighters: California and Connecticut. In the case of California, under a graduated CDL system, a fire apparatus operator must pass a written test and a road test. Once the tests are passed and any other requirements are met, the California Department of Motor Vehicles endorses the firefighter's car license to permit the driving of fire apparatus. A firefighter who wants to obtain a CDL in California must fulfill all of the requirements that other commercial vehicle operators must have to as part of the CDL process. Connecticut has a similar format in that a firefighter's driver's license is endorsed with a Q; hence, the Connecticut fire apparatus license is called the "Q."

These are the only two states I am aware of that have taken the driving of fire apparatus seriously and responsibly. If you have a special licensing requirement for fire apparatus in your state, please tell us. But most of you will not. Why? Because most of the states have exempted the fire service from the very safety rules put in place to make the roads safer for everyone. One may ask how can this be, since firefighters are in the business of public safety? Surely, they would not petition state legislators to exempt them from the very safety rules put in place for everyone.

But, yes, that is exactly what has happened. Most fire departments have an exemption from the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act. What other safety rules are we exempted from that other commercial vehicle operators must abide by?

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