The Sticky Question of Stronger Training Regulations
At this time there is very little in regards to training regulations in the FMCSA regulations. Four areas are listed outside of passing the CDL license testing.
Subpart E - Entry-level
driver training requirements
Â§ 380.503 Entry-level driver training requirements. Entry-level driver training must include instruction addressing the following four areas: (a) Driver qualification requirements. The Federal rules on medical certification, medical examination procedures, general qualifications, responsibilities, and disqualifications based on various offenses, orders, and loss of driving privileges (part 391, subparts B and E of this subchapter). (b) Hours of service of drivers. The limitations on driving hours, the requirement to be off-duty for certain periods of time, record of duty status preparation, and exceptions (part 395 of this subchapter). Fatigue countermeasures as a means to avoid crashes. (c) Driver wellness. Basic health maintenance including diet and exercise. The importance of avoiding excessive use of alcohol. (d) Whistleblower protection. The right of an employee to question the safety practices of an employer without the employee's risk of losing a job or being subject to reprisals simply for stating a safety concern (29 CFR part 1978).
At this time, there is nothing in the regulations about an entry-level driver attending a school to pull single semi trailers. However, there is a long list of training requirements for those who pull double and triple trailers including attending an accredited school.
The FMCSA was given a congressional directive in 1991 to address training regulation issues. Since then, the FMCSA has taken a back seat, little rush approach. Recently the FMCSA pulled their 2007 notice regarding training regulations due in part to listening sessions held on the topic and renewed interest from Congress in the MAP-21 Act. In reading the 2007 Proposed Rule Making, and it is difficult reading, the FMCSA jumps around from agreeing, due to studies, that training regulations are necessary to them thinking the current way training is done is adequate.
Any driver on the road can attest to the inadequacies of training. An entry-level driver goes to school for 2-4 weeks usually, then is with trainers, who may have adequate experience or not, for another 4-8 weeks, then is turned loose on their own. While this might have been adequate 30 years ago, with less traffic and regulations, it is no longer enough training.
Leaving adequate training regulations to the training companies leaves unlevel training from company to company. Some companies will put 2 students just away from their trainers together in a team situation. Other companies allow entry-level drivers who enter the company’s lease programs right from their trainers to train not only 1 but 2 students at a time. Many, due to lack of trainers will allow someone with less than 6 months experience to train. This leaves the students in need of further training they do not receive that they have to learn on their own to be safe.
Yet, the FMCSA states that only 19% of all accidents can be attributed to entry-level drivers, when they acknowledge any accidents at all. Again, any driver on the road can attest to seeing a predominance of training company trucks in wreck situations or driving unsafely/unwisely; it is the elephant in the living room.
There have been suggestions made to the FMCSA as to what training should entail. A graduated CDL program is one of them. In this, an entry level driver would start out with a permit allowing them to drive with a licensed CDL holder for a set period of time, then graduate to a full CDL.
Other suggestions include having both the written and skills parts of the tests only in English. At this time, interpreters are allowed in most states to assist applicants in the written part of the testing. Removing fraud from the testing programs is necessary. Fraud enters in when a school or trucking company school has third party testers in their employ to give both parts of the CDL testing. They have a vested interest in passing the students.
At this time, there are so called CDL schools that guarantee a CDL in 24 hours in many states. This is legal, though one has to wonder if it is morally right. One such school in Missouri trains with a class 7 single axle tractor and a 20-foot flatbed. The student studies the manual on their own, obtains their permit, goes to the mud lot driving range, backs up for a couple of hours, goes over a pre-trip and goes to test. They come out of it with a Class A CDL.
With no mandatory training regulations, the possibility of CDL school scams are high. While the FMCSA, the large carriers and the insurance companies organized the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) in 1986 to develop a curriculum for trucking schools, only 61 out of the approximate 200 truck driving schools are registered. This allows a wide variety in the quality of the education provided in trucking schools, and those unregistered with PTDI have little oversight.
One of the most horrendous scams reported is where a person is told by a school that they are prehired by a company who will stand for their tuition. The person goes to the school, on the first day is rushed through signing a contract at the end of the day, trains a week, and then is told the prehiring company has changed their mind about hiring them, usually no reason is given. They are sent home, a few weeks later billed for the full tuition. Of course, the school will take payments, but the interest rate is high; it was in the contract they signed so they have little recourse.
Good truck driver training is the basis for highway safety and should not be so hard to understand or accept by the FMCSA who is supposedly all about highway safety. No longer can a truck owner throw a newbee the keys and tell them to drive the truck, there is too much traffic, too many regulations and heavier loads than there was 30 years ago. As with all safety, it starts in the driver’s seat, the new drivers coming up deserve to be adequately trained.