Federal Update
Pros say safety, not profit, should drive new training rule

By David Tanner, associate editor

Experienced trucking professionals took to the podium during the Mid-America Trucking Show to reaffirm their commitment to highway safety and to help federal regulators shape a rule on entry-level driver training standards.

What the industry doesn’t need, many said, is for inexperienced trainers to be in charge of inexperienced drivers hauling freight right out of trucking school.

“Before somebody can be a trainer, they have to be through all four seasons,” said 38-year trucking veteran and OOIDA Life Member Lee Strebel, during a public listening session held by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials, including Administrator Anne Ferro and Deputy Administrator Larry Minor.

The session was part of FMCSA’s outreach on driver training standards as the agency prepares a final rule as mandated in the highway bill MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

“You have to give that student the big picture,” Strebel said.

Longtime truckers OOIDA Life Member Jerry Fritts, OOIDA Life Member Greg Petit, OOIDA Member Jeana Hysell, Sam Mitchell, OOIDA Life Member Sandi Talbott, D.J. Brown, OOIDA Life Member Dick Pingel, OOIDA Senior Member Scott Grenerth and OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer spoke about the need for trained drivers with experience to replace those leaving the industry.

Administrators acknowledged that many older, experienced drivers are leaving the industry and that schools have varying levels of standards for training new drivers.

Some trainers and carrier representatives at the session said the FMCSA should allow them to keep doing what they’re doing – graduating thousands of CDL applicants and getting them to work quickly to fill the so-called “driver shortage.”

Truckers, however, cautioned against two- to three-week training courses – some even shorter than that – promising CDLs and a job.

“You can train anyone to go down the road,” Spencer said. “You want to train a driver for when things go wrong, because things go wrong every day.”

Truckers offered up that drivers should have three to five years of experience before becoming a trainer to train other drivers. Many said that a trainee needs six months at the wheel with an experienced trainer before being turned loose on a job.

Drivers highlighted the recruitment strategies of carriers, the so-called “driver shortage,” and the turnover rate in an effort to shed light on the need for commitment by the federal agency on tighter training standards.

“There is no oversight on the turnover rate,” said Talbott. “As a veteran driver and as a taxpayer, I feel if the FMCSA truly cared about safety they would have a cap on how many students could be recruited by a training carrier per year.”

An official representing a group of schools that graduate about 50,000 entry-level drivers each year said they supply most of those drivers to a group of large carriers. The carriers with relationships with those schools own a combined 60,000 tractors. The numbers illuminate what truckers know firsthand in terms of driver turnover in the industry.

Fritts cited a recent study that said the LTL sector had only 9 percent turnover, far lower than the 100 percent turnover of some carriers despite the fact that the drivers are essentially doing the same work.

“New drivers are really being exploited by trucking company management,” Fritts said.

The panel asked about simulators as a training tool. Brown and Grenerth said that while simulators can teach certain things, there’s no substitute for real-world conditions, including weather, traffic, hours of service, separation from family and other stresses.

“Getting a CDL is not being an experienced driver,” Grenerth said.

“I don’t think anything is going to teach me what that road is going to teach me,” said Brown.

The FMCSA intends to publish a rule on entry level driver training standards in October, as per the mandate. Administrators said they were grateful for the input from experienced drivers on the issue. LL