Cover Story
At long last
For nearly 30 years, the push for driver training has failed to produce a rule. Now, a diverse group of 26 industry stakeholders has agreed upon and delivered the framework for what will be the first-ever driver training regulations.

By Jami Jones, managing editor

What do a hairstylist, plumber, electrician and truck driver have in common? If you guessed that all have to receive training to work in their chosen field, you’re a little bit closer to right than you would have been earlier this year.

For more than 30 years there has been a push to have required training for entry-level truck drivers – ones who have never had a commercial driver’s license before. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has made a couple of failed attempts at mandating the training in the past. Both regulations were unceremoniously tossed out by the courts.

This time around, the FMCSA took a new approach to coming up with the training that anyone seeking their CDL would have to complete. The agency initiated a negotiated rulemaking. In short, they selected 26 industry stakeholders, put together an intense schedule of meetings, and asked the diverse group to agree on what should be included in any driver training regulation.

The group included representatives from all segments of the industry, including associations such as OOIDA and ATA, trucking schools, trucking companies, special-interest lobbying groups and one lone owner-operator.

At times in the early going it appeared that reaching “consensus,” as the group was tasked to do, was almost impossible. It took three full two-day meetings just to agree on who the proposed regulations would apply to.

As simple a concept as that may seem, the group had to overcome the desire to regulate beyond “entry-level” drivers – men and women being trained before receiving their CDL. The current common practice of simply getting a CDL and then being trained by a motor carrier continued to muddy the waters early on.

But Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, only mandated training for pre-CDL holders if you will. Once the group settled on that definition, things moved along surprisingly smoothly.

Groups that typically find themselves at odds over nearly every issue being pitched, from electronic logs to longer-heavier trucks, found a tremendous amount of common ground.

Targeting CDL mills and substandard training was the common purpose that initially drew the group together. Everyone recognized that certification of training providers and trainers, a comprehensive core curriculum, and certification standards were keys to ensuring quality training in the future.

Who provides the training

A registry of training providers was first proposed by OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Scott Grenerth. The committee members latched on to the concept and added layers of accountability to registered trainers through the identification numbers that would be attached to trainee records and tracked through CDL testing to determine adequacy of the providers training of students.

Battling a common perception that all training is provided by entities, either motor carriers or schools or some sort, owner-operator Bryan Spoon challenged that notion and found relatively quick and universal support for a small-training-provider category.

That opens the door once the driver training regulation is in place to individuals who want to train friends or family members, for example. The committee agreed to restrict small-training provider to three trainees in a 12-month period.

Training providers for the theory/classroom or range who are not CDL holders must have audited or completed the course they will eventually instruct. Behind-the-wheel trainers who will take trainees out on the road will be required to have at least one year of experience driving or have at least one year of experience as an on-road commercial motor vehicle trainer.

All trainers will be subject to additional licensing, etc., that may be required by state law where the training is administered.

What will be taught

The group settled on core curriculum requirements for Class A, Class B, passenger endorsement, school bus endorsement, hazardous materials endorsement and refresher training for individuals who have not held an active CDL for four years or more.

The curriculum tackles what will be taught in a classroom environment as well as behind the wheel.

Obviously some of the training includes non-vehicle-related skills and knowledge that truck drivers must have. Understanding of the hours-of-service, drug and alcohol and medical requirement regulations; handling and documenting cargo; environmental compliance; accident procedures; and post-crash procedures are included in the committee agreed-upon core curriculum. The theory and classroom component will also work to familiarize and educate students on various aspects of driving the truck.

The behind-the-wheel curriculum is broken down into vehicle maneuvers in range and road components. Skills such as pre- and post-trip inspections, backing, parallel parking, alley docking, etc., will be taught in a range environment. For small providers training three or fewer people in a 12-month period, the range can be a parking lot that protects the truck from interaction with traffic.

The road component curriculum includes controlling the vehicle through turns, lane changes and curves – as well as efficient shifting techniques, space and speed management, visual search for potential hazards, etc. Other skills such as railroad crossings, nighttime driving, skid and recovery will be taught through at least discussion or possibly simulation, but not necessarily performed.

The behind-the-wheel component of the training is a performance-based curriculum that is required to be at least 30 hours in duration with 10 designated on the range, 10 on the road and 10 more for where the student would receive the most benefit.

Passing the class

Students who successfully complete the training, both written and driving tests, will be entered into a database FMCSA will establish. That database will transmit successful completion paperwork of the student to the student’s home state, essentially green-lighting them to take the CDL test.

Training providers and trainers who have more than 50 percent of their students failing to pass the CDL test could be subject to enforcement by the FMCSA and possibly removed from the training registry.

Next steps

The entry-level driver training as agreed upon by the committee will set the groundwork for the agency to write a proposed rulemaking that will be subject to public comment through a rulemaking process. The agency hopes to have a final rule sometime in late 2016 with at least a three-year implementation period, depending on the technology development that will facilitate the program.

Given that the regulation will apply only to pre-CDL training, it’s the collective hopes of the committee members and the agency that with the registry and the tracking of students after training, the agency will be able to collect data on the safety performance of the trainees.

While discussed, post-CDL training was outside the scope of the committee’s task. Many members expressed throughout the process that this rulemaking will serve as the first steps in improving the quality of drivers entering the industry. And the data will offer insights into any gaps in the initial training and what training if any should be implemented post-CDL. LL