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Entry Level Driver Training

Requiring Comprehensive Training for All Entry-Level Commercial Driver License Applicants Is Long Overdue

One of the first curricula on entry level driver training (ELDT) for commercial motor vehicle drivers was developed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in the mid-1980s. Yet it was not until 1993, that the agency published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM). Following this initiation of the rulemaking process, regulatory action stalled again until 2002, when the agency that is now responsible for this regulation – the FMCSA – was sued by safety advocates.

In response to the lawsuit, the agency produced an inadequate final rule in 2004. The training requirement was 10-hours of classroom instruction on four topics; there was no BTW training required. And once again, safety advocates sued the agency – this time for producing a capricious rule. The court agreed with plaintiffs and remanded the FMCSA to produce an ELDT final rule that included behind-the-wheel training. The agency finally published a Notice of Propose Rulemaking (NPRM) in 2007, however, the FMCSA once again failed to promulgate a final rule.

ELDTAC Brought Together Parties with Different Interests and Arrived at a Consensus

The ELDTAC was formed to negotiate a proposed rule to establish entry level driver training requirements. The committee consisted of 26 members, all of whom have varying interests in and ideas about entry level driver training, to work together and with the agency to craft the rulemaking. Members included family members of truck crash victims, safety advocacy groups, motor carriers, driver organizations, state licensing agencies, training schools, labor unions, state enforcement agencies, and several other parties. In the end, 24 members of the ELDTAC agreed that there should be a required amount of time for BTW training; the two dissenting members represented industry interests.

The Curricula Requires Knowledge of Skills and Minimum Hours that Will Ensure Truck Drivers Are Adequately Trained

The negotiated rulemaking will outline the requisite skills that candidates applying for a Class A or B CDL should have in order to be certified as a professional driver that is capable of operating his or her vehicle. The Truck Safety Coalition is pleased that both curricula require that candidates learn more than 19 different topics while on the range and/or road. We also agree with the agency’s assessment that “…a hybrid approach combining minimum BTW hours requirement with detailed curriculum requirements is the best way to ensure that drivers will be adequately trained in the safe operation of Class A and Class B CMVs.”9  

The minimum hours requirement for BTW will help the agency make sure that CDL applicants have sufficient time to learn the wide array of topics in the proposed curriculum. This commonsense move will modernize the trucking industry to be more in-line with other licensed professions that use hours-based entry-level training or continuing education to promote best practices and reduce bad actors. In addition, requiring that candidates receive a minimum amount of BTW training is not something new to the industry. Leading CDL training schools, certain states and the largest trade association, The Commercial Vehicle Training Association, all mandate a minimum number of BTW hours.  

Standardized Training Will Improve Safety Outcomes

Given that some training schools only cover some topics, while not requiring BTW, and other schools require BTW training, while not covering as many safety issues as other training schools, setting a standard curriculum will reduce truck crashes because the drivers will be better trained to operate a truck. TSC is pleased that all A and B Class CDL applicants will need to study fatigue awareness, hours of service, trip planning, operating a vehicle under various conditions to name a few of the topics, and then demonstrate how knowledge of that topic translates to safe operations.

Moreover, harmonizing various driver training facilities and establishing a database of training providers will also help the FMCSA enforce this rule. The NPRM requires the agency to set up a registry of the facilities that meet the proposed qualifications. This will help the FMCSA identify training schools that are more concerned with money than with graduating safe driver by allowing them to remove CDL mills responsible for churning out inadequately trained truck drivers who cause injurious and fatal crashes.

Continued Delays and Removal of Minimum Hours of BTW Training 

The Truck Safety Coalition and our volunteers, many of whom are families of truck crash victims and survivors seeking truck safety advances, are extremely disappointed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA, agency) final rule requiring entry-level driver training for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers.

After languishing for 25 years after it was mandated by an Act of Congress, we were hopeful that the Entry Level Driver Training Advisory Committee (ELDTAC), which brought together law enforcement, safety advocates, and members of the industry, would be able to produce a negotiated rulemaking that included a minimum number of behind-the-wheel (BTW) training hours. After meeting several times throughout the past year, the ELDTAC negotiated a proposed rule that included both a theoretical curriculum as well as a minimum number (30 hours) of BTW training hours. Unfortunately, the years of waiting and the participation of the ELDTAC members has been for naught. The final rule will not mandate a minimum number of BTW training hours, severely blunting the potential safety benefits of it.

Without a minimum BTW training hours requirement, the agency will not be able to ensure that CDL applicants have adequate time to learn the wide range of topics in the proposed curriculum. Given the overlap between trucking companies and training programs and an industry turnover rate above 90 percent, the FMCSA is naïve to think that a “BTW training standard based solely on a driver-trainee’s proficiency in performing required range and public road maneuvers is a more flexible, and thus less burdensome option than required minimum hours because it recognizes that driver-trainees will complete BTW training at a pace that reflects their varying levels of individual ability.” The driver-trainees will not complete the BTW training at their own pace, they will complete it at the pace of the training school they attend or the trucking company that runs it, which is how the current, safety-deficient system operates.

The FMCSA’s latest attempt to produce an entry-level driver training for CMV drivers has been a colossal waste of time. This final rule is both insufficient in terms of advancing safety and an insult to the memories of those killed in crashes caused by inexperience and untrained truck drivers. In particular, our thoughts are with Ron Wood, who served on the ELDTAC and at each meeting revisited his grief associated with losing his mother, sister, and three nephews in a terribly tragic truck crash in Texas in 2004.