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Document the use of COVID-19 med card and licensing waivers

The second installment in a two-part series on updating driver files after the pandemic

Posted March 19, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic led to several enforcement notices that extended expired medical cards and driver’s licenses.
The limited availability of vital services needed by motor carriers and their drivers led to the waivers released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

If you took advantage of the medical certification and/or licensing exceptions, your recordkeeping must show the driver met the terms of FMCSA’s notice and was fully qualified before its end date. A copy of each enforcement notice should be retained to show auditors, since copies may be difficult to obtain in the future.

Medical card exemptions

There was more than one rendition of the medical card waiver. Your recordkeeping must show that the driver was eligible to use the waiver being claimed.

The following terms apply to each of the enforcement notices:

  • The existing medical card was issued for at least 90 days; and
  • The driver has not been diagnosed with a disqualifying medical condition since the previous medical exam.

Each waiver provided specific dates that determined whether the driver qualified for the extension:

Medical card expiration date:

Medical certification waived until:

3/1/20 - 5/31/20


6/1/20 - 8/31/20


9/1/20 - 11/30/20


On or after 12/1/20


It’s important to note that drivers who were able to find services would have been expected to renew their medical certification. If clinics were unable to perform driver physicals, you may wish to document your phone conversations (dates, facility) to show your good faith efforts to find an accommodating service provider.

It is a good best practice to retain proof of the previous medical certificate (med card or MVR) longer than three years from date of issuance (to demonstrate the driver qualified for the waiver). This record, along with a copy of the waiver and documented attempts to schedule an appointment, is best kept with the most current exam and purged at the same time.

Driver’s license exemption

In respect to the driver’s license exemption, drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or commercial learner’s permit (CLPs) that was valid on February 29, 2020, and expired since March 1, 2020, were given until May 31, 2021, to renew. In addition, states can delay downgrading a CDL or CLP as the result of an expired medical card, providing the terms of the medical card exemption were met.

Similar to the medical certification, if a driver was able to renew the license or submit proof of medical certification, he or she was expected to do so.

The waiver does not apply to a CDL or CLP holder if the driver's privileges have been suspended or withdrawn for traffic offenses or if the driver is otherwise disqualified to operate a CMV.

It is important to note that the waiver permits, but does not require, states to extend the validity of licenses due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. The final decision to extend expired license and delay downgraded licenses is left to the discretion of individual states.

Carriers and drivers should check the state driver’s licensing agency (SDLA) website to learn whether FMCSA’s waiver is applicable. There may be a variation on the date range if the SDLA became operational during the course of the waiver. A best practice is to capture a screen shot of the SDLA’s website when notices are posted and hours of operation and appointments are limited.

If the SDLA is accepting the federal waiver, drivers should not wait until the last minute to renew their licenses. The deadline is the maximum, and if all drivers wait, it may create a bottleneck at the SDLA. To avoid a downgraded CDL and CLP, drivers should plan to have their updated medical cards to the SDLA by May 18, 2021, so their driving record is updated by May 28, 2021. The state has 10 days to process all medical certifications. But the waiver deadline lands on a federal holiday.  

It is recommended that motor carriers obtain a new MVR prior to May 28, 2021, confirming any expired or downgraded license was brought up to date. If the driver’s record is not current, an MVR request on or after June 1st is too late. You have an unqualified driver on the road.

Key to remember

History books will no doubt document the global pandemic. But your recordkeeping must document your motor carrier’s story for future reference. In the event of an audit, you will need to explain when you used a specific waiver and prove your driver qualified. And you’ll need to take all the necessary steps to get your files back in compliance.

This article was written by Kathy Close of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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