Q: I hear that the Texas Department of Public Safety is trying to help with the bus driver shortage by waiving requirements pertaining to certain pre-trip vehicle inspection components of the CDL licensing process. Does this mean that a school bus driver obtaining a CDL under this waiver can drive students everywhere, including field trips in neighboring states and is permitted to operate other vehicles requiring a CDL?
A: No, the Texas Department of Public Safety’s waiver for select CDLs is restricted to intrastate operation of a school bus only. This means that a driver with a restricted CDL under this waiver can only operate a school bus in the state of Texas. Additionally, the school bus driver will not be able to drive any other vehicle requiring a CDL with this waiver.
Generally, to be hired as a school bus driver in Texas, an applicant must, among other requirements, hold an appropriate class of driver license—in most cases a Class B commercial driver license with passenger (P) and school bus (S) endorsements. See Tex. Transp. Code § 521.022. Additionally, to obtain a Class B CDL license, an applicant must successfully pass a general knowledge test, an air brakes test, and a pre-trip inspection test, as well as pass an annual mental and physical exam.
To assist states and municipalities experiencing a critical shortage of school bus drivers and to recruit new hires, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced on January 3, 2022, that states may waive the portion of the commercial driver license testing requirement covering knowledge of the “under the hood” engine components for those applicants seeking to operate a school bus. The “under the hood” components are included in the pre-trip inspection skills test and encompass the following: oil level, coolant level, power steering fluid/belt/gear, water pump belt/gear, alternator belt/gear, air compressor belt/gear or hydraulic master cylinder (as applicable), and leak/hoses. Seizing the authority granted by the FMCSA, the Texas Department of Public Safety recently announced the implementation of a waiver for those CDL applicants seeking to operate a school bus, effectively eliminating the engine compartment elements of the pre-trip vehicle inspection skills test. All other components of the pre-trip vehicle inspection test, basic controls/general knowledge test, and road test remain unchanged and must still be completed by applicants. The CDL waiver implemented to assist with school bus driver shortages is effective beginning January 24, 2022 and expires March 31, 2022.
Additionally, all applicants utilizing this waiver will not be required to provide a medical certificate; however, of critical importance – DPS has restricted applicants utilizing this waiver to intrastate operation of the school bus only and has confirmed that the applicant will not be able to drive any other vehicles requiring a CDL unless they complete the full CDL skills testing. A copy of the DPS announcement can be accessed here https://www.dps.texas.gov/news/dps-announces-waiver-select-cdls-assist-school-bus-driver-shortage
For specific questions or additional information regarding CDL requirements for school bus drivers, please consult with your local school law attorney.