After a three-year phase-in period, Feb. 7 marks the starting date.

December 2019/January 2020

Wendy Parker

|

Editor’s note: Deadlines are a blessing and a curse. Things can happen after deadline that shifts the news. That’s the case here. After we went to press, FMCSA opted to delay the driver training rule by two years. While this information will likely be relevant in two years, we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, catch up on the update here.

Early in 2016, the FMCSA proposed a rule for entry-level driver training standards. The original rule, which included a minimum of 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training, was pitched as an effort to standardize professional driver training programs and in turn, produce a safer, higher-quality test candidate for a commercial driver’s license.

As a long-time proponent of driver training standards, OOIDA supported the rule.

In fact, in 2005, OOIDA filed a lawsuit against the FMCSA regarding minimum training requirements for entry-level truck drivers.

A grave concern for inadequate training standards prompted the Association to partner with Advocates for Highway and the Auto Safety and United Motorcoach Association to petition the agency for a driver training standard.

Language in this lawsuit referenced that as far back as 1997, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a bulletin telling prospective employers of truckers to be aware.

“Possessing a CDL does not indicate that the holder is a trained or experienced truck or bus driver. It merely indicates that the holder has passed minimal skills and knowledge tests concerning the type of vehicle he or she proposes to drive.”

How we got here

A full 19 years after the Department of Transportation issued this warning, and 11 years after being sued by OOIDA, the FMCSA finally had their proposed driver training rule.

OOIDA Board Member Bryan Spoon took time from his own business schedule to participate in the Entry Level Driver Training Advisory Committee information-gathering and planning sessions regarding a comprehensive, well-rounded standard of driver education. This standard included minimum behind-the-wheel hours.

Despite best efforts of the 26-member committee, the rule published Dec. 7, 2017, was a shell of the originally proposed prototype.

A complete lack of mandatory behind-the-wheel training hours compelled OOIDA to co-sponsor a petition asking for the halt of mandatory rule implementation with language that included:

“The 2016 final rule is not in the public interest because it does not advance safety beyond current practice in which any and all untrained CDL applicants can perform basic minor movements of CMVs and obtain a CDL without being exposed to the real-world experience of driving a CMV on public roads while receiving instruction from a qualified instructor.”

Unfortunately, the only change made to the rule was removal of eight “nondriving activity” instructional units to facilitate ease for those looking to upgrade from Class B to Class A license. The question of mandatory behind-the-wheel training hours was answered by the FMCSA with this statement:

“The final rule does not impose a mandatory minimum number of behind-the-wheel hours for the Class A and B CDL training primarily because, despite the best efforts of FMCSA and the Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee, we were not able to obtain sufficient quantitative data linking mandatory minimum behind-the-wheel training hours with positive safety outcomes, such as crash reduction.”

The rule

The rule is set to go into effect Feb. 7. From that date forward, any entry-level driver taking a commercial driver’s license skills test will require proof that he or she has successfully completed a “mandatory theory (knowledge) and behind-the-wheel training program.”

Although the FMCSA has no official method of accreditation for training facilities offering these programs, the rule establishes “minimum qualifications for an entity to be eligible for listing on the FMCSA Training Provider Registry” and goes on to require providers must “supply documentary evidence to verify their compliance in the event of an FMCSA audit or investigation.”

There is no mention of arbitrary or random checks to see if training providers listed on the approved registry are actually in compliance with agency standards. We can assume this means it’s going to be treated a lot like the ELD provider list, in that the agency believes the market will “weed out” bad players by natural attrition.

Of course, that doesn’t help those inadvertently caught in the weeding process. People who aren’t bad players and just regular folks trying to get the training necessary to obtain a commercial driver’s license will become casualties of this natural attrition. The hit to their education-fund-wallet can range anywhere from $1,800 to $7,500, depending on regional demographics and average costs of training programs.

That’s expensive weeding, with real-life consequences.

There are an estimated 1,132 community colleges in the United States, educating 13 million adult students each year. Because the FMCSA Training Provider Registry won’t be operable until February 2020, we have no way of knowing how many of these learning institutions will be listed.

Training courses

Here’s what we do know: A large number of community colleges provide CDL training now, and one could assume the previous established, long-term providers will be included in the registry.

CDL-specific enrollment will only increase after the rule is implemented in February. The number of community-based education providers and private training schools also is expected to increase.

The most pressing issue for a majority of driver training facilities is lack of instructors. The standard for FMCSA’s registry requires a clean license with any and all endorsements being taught under the license current and in good standing, as well as two years of driving experience.

That being said, “the final rule does not require that training providers be accredited by a third-party organization as a condition of eligibility for listing on the (Training Provider Registry),” so again we don’t know how this will be enforced.

Due to the short-term (usually six weeks) nature of current commercial motor vehicle driver training course, it’s not eligible for federal student aid, however, there are a number of grants, scholarships and other creative funding options available for tuition costs.

As of September 2018, 17 states offered some version of free community college. Costs are offset by state-funded scholarships and needs-based grants. Combining these resources with benefits from federal Work Investment Act and Workforce Training funds allow low-income students the opportunity to change their earning potential exponentially tuition-free.

If they aren’t eligible for the military skills test wavier, veterans have several avenues to explore funding for their CDL training. GI Bill benefits are an option, as well as grants set aside by the FMCSA for military veterans (and their family members) who would like to pursue careers in professional commercial driving.

Age isn’t a factor. Not all people seeking career training are 20-somethings. For the older student, AARP has Senior Community Service Employment Program, specializing in assistance to people 55 and older. They specialize in displaced and retired workers who have a desire or financial need to continue earning to their fullest ability.

If by some chance the cost of programs can’t be covered with grants or scholarships, there are a number of gap-tuition programs available. If you don’t qualify for gap programs, inquire about noncredit tuition assistance loans available through the college itself. There are small, short-term, low-interest loans available in many of the vocational and community colleges.

If the current hiring climate continues, the most challenging part of entry-level driver training might be finding an open spot available in a registered program after February 2020.

Private, for-profit training facilities will likely accept fewer grants and scholarship funds but promise a much quicker turn-around and more quickly being on the way to a new and profitable career. Be wary of extremely short course duration. Be aware of discussions about “co-signers” and always ask questions about interest rates.

If there must be some kind of financing agreement for training, make sure to understand it and go over it thoroughly before agreeing to it. Find out beforehand whether or not the state you reside in suspends license privileges due to bad education debt. It’s a dirty trap that unscrupulous private “schools” have used in the past to strong-arm ridiculous amounts of interest-debt from former students.

This may seem like redundant information for longtime OOIDA members who don’t have to worry about entry-level training. You may never have to take your skills test again, but you do have to share the roads with people who will soon be falling under this mandate. It’s more important than ever to pass good information on to people who are interested in doing the job. The holes in the official driver training rule will only be filled by mentoring and only experienced professional drivers can be mentors. LL

pfj-728x90-4-20
Wendy Parker

Wendy Parker has covered the trucking industry since 2012 after she says she “lost my mind and decided to climb inside my husband’s big truck to travel with him as an over-the road, long-haul trucker.” Her unique writing style that ranges from biting satire to investigative journalism coupled with her unbridled passion for fighting round out a wildly talented stable of writers.