FMCSA's New Training Standards for Entry-Level Drivers
The ripple effects of the 2016 proposed rule have yet to be determined.
- By Matt Holden
- Jun 01, 2016
On March 4, 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed a set of national prerequisite training standards for entry-level commercial truck and bus operators trying to obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL). The recommendation was a consensus from a rulemaking committee made up of FMCSA representatives and 25 stakeholders. It is a direct response to a congressional mandate derived from the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. Known as MAP-21, this was a major surface transportation funding bill for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 signed into law by President Obama.
FMCSA’s proposed rule covers both "Class A" and "Class B" CDLs. "Class A" CDLs are required for operating a combination tractor-trailer vehicle weighing 26,001 pounds or more. Drivers seeking this license would be required to have a minimum of 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training from a program that meets FMCSA standards, including a minimum of 10 hours of operating a vehicle on a practice driving range. "Class B" CDLs are necessary when operating a heavy truck or a school bus, city transit bus, or motor coach and would require a minimum of 15 hours of behind-the-wheel training and a minimum of 10 hours of practice on a driving range.
In 2013, Jack Paulden, a former commercial truck driver in the United States, published a column in The Guardian outlining his experiences. When asked what his biggest mistake was as a driver, Paulden cited the moments that occurred directly after getting his Class A CDL, when he had to gain experience. In order to get experience, he had to live with a fellow driver and earn 15,000 to 20,000 miles over the course of 30 days. This meant he had to share the cabin space with a stranger between 11-hour shifts, reaching 550 to 640 miles a day. Paulden explained that he often argued with his trainer and noted the difference in training requirements among others in the industry caused him to wish he had been trained differently.
DOT and FMCSA leaders were both quoted in the initial announcement of the rule, with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx saying, "Well-trained drivers are safer drivers, which leads to greater safety for our families and friends on our highways and roads. With the help of our partners, today’s proposal serves as a major step towards ensuring that commercial vehicle drivers receive the necessary training required to safely operate a large truck or motor coach."
There was no proposed minimum number of hours that trainees must spend in the classroom portion of any curriculum.
"A diverse group of commercial motor vehicle stakeholders completed a tremendous amount of work, and that effort resulted in an unprecedented consensus," FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling said in the initial news release. "We've designated 2016 as our 'Year of Partnerships,' and these comprehensive entry-level driver training standards exemplify our commitment to working closely with our safety partners, including state and local law enforcement, the safety advocacy community, and all other stakeholders to reduce crashes and to save lives."
Reception to the proposed rule is mixed, with those who have experience on the road worried about the requirements that are needed for a driver to be a qualified commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driving instructor. In a column1 for fleetowner.com after the rule was published, Timothy Brady, business editor for American Trucker magazine, broke down the requirements as described as part of the proposed rule. The rule defines a qualified driver as: an experienced driver who holds a CDL of the same (or higher) class and with all endorsements necessary to operate the CMV for which training is to be provided and who has at least one year of experience driving a CMV requiring a CDL of the same or higher class and/or the same endorsement; or has at least one year of experience as a behind the wheel CMV instructor; and meets all applicable state training requirements for CMV instructors, he explained.
Having only one year of truck experience in the type of vehicle, along with endorsements, is not enough time to truly be considered an expert, he added, writing that measuring experience in years as opposed to miles misses the mark. "A trucker with only one year's experience has only one winter season behind the wheel; one spring, one summer, and one fall," Brady wrote in his column. "And with that they'd be hit-or-miss on what type of inclement weather conditions they've encountered: slick road conditions, congested traffic, construction zones. Not to mention at least 90 days (25%) of that first year they would have been with a driver-trainer still learning the basic skills."
According to foodlogistics.com, the transportation industry is seeing a "severe" driver shortage, and while some may view this rule as a major hurdle toward attracting new drivers, those within the industry admire the FMCSA for continuing to push safety and professionalism. Elliot Maras, managing editor of Food Logistics magazine, said the trucking industry "has seized the initiative in working with the government in maintaining and improving the caliber of commercial drivers. The standards will improve not only the quality of the nation’s commercial drivers, but the career opportunity that commercial driving offers to job seekers."
Maras went on to suggest the industry work together on a public education campaign on the benefits of a commercial driving career.
Eligibility for FMCSA's Training Provider Registry
After the proposed rulemaking was announced, FMCSA shared responses to frequently asked questions regarding entry-level driver training on its website, going more in depth on some of the reasoning behind the proposed rule and explaining the requirements in more detail. Military drivers, farmers, and firefighters would be generally exempt from the proposed requirements, as well as drivers applying for a more restricted license, such as drivers from Alaska, farm-related service industries, and the pyrotechnic industry.
Minimum qualifications have been established for an entity to be listed on the FMCSA Training Provider Registry (TPR). According to the agency, training providers would have to offer and teach a training curriculum that meets all FMCSA standards for entry-level drivers and also would have to meet requirements related to: course administration, qualifications for instructional personnel, assessments, issuance of training certificates, and training vehicles. Providers that meet these requirements would be eligible for listing on the registry but would have to continue to meet the requirements in order to stay listed. In the event of an audit, the providers would have to prove that they meet the requirements by supplying documentary evidence.
There are two sets of eligibility requirements that training providers would need to meet: One set would apply to in-house or school training providers that expect to train more than three drivers per year, and another set is intended for small businesses and for-hire training that expects to train three or fewer drivers per year.
FMCSA also noted that the proposed compliance date for the rule would be three years after the effective date of the final rule, in order to give states enough time to implement necessary legislation, to modify their information systems to begin recording the training provider's certificate information on the Commercial Driver's License Information System (CDLIS) driver record, and to begin making that information available from the CDLIS driver record. This extended period also would give time for the training industry to develop and start to offer programs that meet the aforementioned eligibility requirements.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.