The greatest kick-the-can debacle in DOT history
The journey toward training entry-level truckers started during the Great Depression, but to date no behind-the-wheel standards exist. Not even an act of Congress in the 1990s could make it happen. What the heck is taking so long? You might be surprised to learn how many times this issue has been kicked down the road.

By David Tanner, associate editor

Efforts to train entry-level truck drivers go back decades – the 1930s to be exact – yet there is still no requirement or national standard for new truckers to get serious behind-the-wheel training.

Even hairdressers are required to complete hands-on training and be certified before they’re allowed to style and cut hair. It’s inconceivable that drivers of 80,000-pound vehicles are not held to a training standard beyond getting a CDL.

OOIDA is working to change things by urging Congress to pass a new highway bill and make sure it contains entry-level training standards.

The Association acknowledges the work of many schools and community colleges that offer good programs, but it’s not enough without a national standard. A standard would go a long way toward making highways safer.

“There’s been a lot coming out of Washington that truckers view as a step backwards or missing the point with highway safety, resulting only in negatives for small-business truckers,” said OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley.

“Ensuring there’s a knowledgeable, experienced driver behind the wheel and that new people coming into the industry receive the training they need not only addresses safety, but addresses the continued push by others toward more regulation,” Bowley said.

OOIDA is urging contact with lawmakers through email, social media, letters and phone calls. Talking points for letters to your representatives and senators are available on OOIDA’s Truckers for Safety campaign website,

The Association says the highway bill is the proper avenue to pursue training standards and other issues important to truckers because it is where Congress authorizes trucking regulations and motor carrier safety programs.

Decades later, still no standards

The first mention of “safe operation” of commercial vehicles appeared in the Motor Carrier Act of 1935, during the Great Depression.

Three years later, President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” exempted trucking from the Fair Labor Standards Act, establishing the mileage-based pay model that most truckers operate under to this day.

The Federal Highway Administration, which handled motor carrier safety until the late 1990s, issued some “recommended practices” in the 1970s to improve training standards. They used data showing that drivers had more accidents during their first few months of employment.

By 1985, the administration’s Office of Motor Carriers issued a 320-hour model curriculum that featured 208 hours of actual driving.

Momentum was building and something was bound to happen. But in comments to the administration, a number of big motor carriers argued against a training standard, saying it would be too expensive to train all those drivers.

Not even the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, which required all commercial drivers to possess a CDL, required any actual training behind the wheel.

OOIDA, Teamsters, motor carrier groups, truck makers, engine makers, suppliers, training schools and insurance companies came together in 1986 to create the Professional Truck Driver Institute of America – an institute that still exists – to certify high-quality training programs. OOIDA President Jim Johnston was the first chairman of the board. It was a great idea, says OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer, but carriers who stood to be the beneficiaries of highly qualified drivers simply did not financially support the program. Their immediate needs for “wheel holders” took precedent over investing in first-class training.

The 1991 highway bill known as the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act – ISTEA – directed the secretary of transportation to initiate a rulemaking on entry-level driver training and called for a study of private-sector training programs. Were we getting close?

Along came 1993, and the first proposed rule to mandate entry-level training. But as the timeline shows, the can kickers were just getting warmed up. LL