PennDOT streamlines CDL test, cuts some parts for those looking to be school bus drivers

17 August 2023- The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) today announced that a new, modernized commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test will be implemented at all PennDOT Driver License Centers that offer CDL skills tests and at all third-party CDL driving skill testers beginning August 28, 2023. As new technologies emerge, the modernized CDL skills test ensures that CDL drivers have the knowledge and skills to drive safely on the road while waiving outdated requirements that hold workers back.  

For example, the Commonwealth recognizes school districts have been dealing with the school bus driver shortage since the pandemic and school bus engines have become more complex and modern. That’s why, starting August 28th, PennDOT will waive the “Under the Hood requirement” for school bus drivers, which means that potential school bus drivers will no longer need to take the portion of the CDL test that requires them to identify engine components.

“Governor Shapiro has made it clear that the Commonwealth should help people succeed, not get in the way. Under his direction, PennDOT is working to make our services more accessible and effective for the people of Pennsylvania,” said PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll. “As someone with a CDL, I know that technology in our vehicles has greatly evolved and improved, even in our commercial vehicles. This modernized test is another way PennDOT is enhancing its services to better serve our CDL applicants while still ensuring the safety of school bus passengers.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has created a long-term waiver extension that allows a state to modify the Commercial Driver’s License test for drivers seeking to obtain a school bus endorsement. PennDOT will implement this waiver granted by FMCSA, and as a result, potential school bus drivers no longer need to take the portion of the CDL test that identifies engine components “under the hood.” Under the current federal waiver, the “under the hood” portion of the test may be waived for school bus driver applicants through November 27, 2024.

“Knowing the components of a school bus engine does not impact a school bus driver’s safe driving skills,” said Deputy Secretary for Driver and Vehicle Services Kara Templeton. “By implementing this waiver from FMCSA, we hope that more drivers will apply for the school bus endorsement and become school bus drivers.”

As always, the CDL skills test examines an applicant’s knowledge based on vehicle features and focuses on key skills needed to safely operate a commercial vehicle. Now, the skills test has received a much needed update to reflect modern vehicle features. Applicants must pass the full CDL Skills Test – which includes pre-trip inspection, basic control and a road test – to receive their CDL. Prospective applicants scheduled to take the test after August 28, 2023, are encouraged to review and study the updated Commercial Driver License Manual to prepare for each portion of the knowledge and driver skills test.

The Vehicle Inspection (VI) test and the Basic Control Skills (BCS) test were updated during the modernization process. CDL applicants may be asked to identify up to 90 different components on the vehicle and describe what they are looking for to ensure it is safe and ready for use compared to the current requirement of more than 100 items. In addition, a checklist is now authorized to be used as a memory aid for this segment.

The BCS Test will require CDL applicants to demonstrate four maneuvers to demonstrate control: 

  • Forward Stop to demonstrate an applicant’s ability to judge the front of the vehicle; 
  • Straight-Line Backing to demonstrate the applicant’s ability to back the vehicle in a straight line; 
  • Forward Offset Tracking to demonstrate an applicant’s ability to maneuver the vehicle around other objects while moving forward; and 
  • Reverse Offset Backing to demonstrate an applicant’s ability to offset reverse and park the vehicle.

Applicants who have already completed portions of the skills testing prior to August 28 will need to complete current versions of CDL Skills Testing. These applicants should continue to review and study the current Commercial Driver License Manual to prepare for each portion of the knowledge and driver skills test.