The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is tightening its standards for commercial driver's license testing, and creating a new commercial learner's permit. In a rule published in today's Federal Register, the agency completes a three-year effort to correct shortcomings in the driver testing and licensing system.

The rule, scheduled to take effect in July, requires states to issue a learner's permit to would-be truck drivers. Applicants will have to pass federally approved CDL knowledge and skills tests, clear a check of their driving record, and hold the learner's permit for at least two weeks before they apply for a CDL. The minimum age for a learner's permit is 18.

The rule also strengthens the standards of proof for legal residence in the U.S. Only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents can get a license. State agencies will be required to verify an applicant's social security number. An initial learner's permit will be valid for 180 days but can be renewed for an additional 180 days before the applicant must take the CDL skill exam. The maximum period for an initial and a renewed CDL will still be eight years, although each state has the authority to set a lesser period.

Other aspects of the rule address state licensing practices. The agencies will have to keep a digitized photo of the driver, and give only supervisors the ability to override computer systems. All test examiners will have to undergo background checks and formal training, and be subject to oversight systems. And applicants will not be able to use language interpreters when taking the knowledge and skills tests.

The 191-page rule has been posted on the FMCSA website.