What is an entry-level driver?

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That might seem like a simple question. But given past Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed rules on training covered both post-CDL and pre-CDL “entry-level drivers,” the question saw no small amount of discussion at the initial meeting of the Entry Level Driver Training Advisory Committee.

The ELDTAC wrapped discussion on Friday, Feb. 27, clarifying the answer to the question. Over the next three months, the 26-member panel will negotiate the terms of a rulemaking relative to pre-CDL training standards for both interstate and intrastate drivers. Much of the discussion centered on how to appropriately exclude drivers from mandated training who have obtained a CDL in the past but who, for whatever reason, become disqualified or have to reapply.

“What is the permissible time that can elapse before the training is required again?” asked committee facilitator Richard Parker. “The states will be left with the discretion of when they can require a CDL [test for reinstatement] – does the training requirement just follow the CDL in lockstep?”

Most ELDTAC members favored looking at pre-CDL training as a onetime certification, to be valid in perpetuity, rather than something that would be required with every change in the CDL status. All current CDL drivers would be grandfathered in and would not require any new training absent an added endorsement.

Following some discussion of potentially requiring re-training after a lapsed CDL, Kevin Lewis of the American Association of  Motor Vehicle Administrators argued against “going down that rabbit hole and making it harder and a lot more complex” than it needs to be. “This ELDT requirement — theoretically it is a one-time situation. The driver achieves the training to get their CDL – as long as they maintain their certificate and renew the CDL every four, five, six years, there’s nothing done with that training requirement again. And they may never be a driver of a CMV. They just maintain their CDL. They have no experience and have undergone the training – the certificate just follows them. Why would you ever make that driver go back and take the training again?”

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Ultimately, the committee decided on language defining an entry-level driver as a “person who applies for a CDL for the first time,” with the caveat that specialized training would be required for those drivers testing for hazardous material, passenger and school bus endorsements. Those endorsements are mentioned in the MAP-21 legislation directing the agency to pursue a training rulemaking. Potential exceptions for ex-military drivers, maybe others, were discussed as well.

Peter Kurdock, director of regulatory affairs for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, perhaps signaling just how difficult reaching consensus on training will be for this committee as it continues its work, noted his organization “would be concerned about any exception unless it was very narrow.”

Such signals lend credence to some committee members’ worry that mandated pre-CDL training will effectively quash some traditional training approaches. “Are we saying that once this all comes out, you will have to pay and attend a formal school?” asked owner-operator Bryan Spoon, a committee member. “There will be no more learning it from family tradition? Or you’re taking the individual father/son operation out of the mix? Everything up here says there’s some kind of school or organization involved…. There are many people [for whom] this is their family business and they train generation to generation. Are we saying that the individual doing the training will have to take some kind of training course and get some kind of [certification] number?”

If so, Spoon went on, he worried the rule would only serve to reinforce the training businesses in place today and/or create new markets for schools — “you’re just turning this into even more of a business.”

In addition to the entry-level-driver definition, “we need to define what a school is,” suggested David Heller, safety and policy director for the Truckload Carriers Association. “We need to find a way to incorporate all of those [traditional informal training approaches]. The one-truck guy who buys another truck — these are the guys who want to train a driver. That’s where a lot of these major truckload carriers come from.”

David Money, chairman of the Professional Truck Drivers Institute curricula-certification organization, suggested certification for those “home-schoolers” could be an option. “As long as the curriculum is utilized and if the program is followed, this [could remain] a possibility.”

FMCSA Associate Administrator Larry Minor envisioned a national registry of certified trainers similar to what’s now in place for medical examiners, not without its problems. One of those, following the registry’s somewhat recent establishment, has been the unwillingness of certain longtime if infrequent examiners to take the training themselves to become certified in the registry. Similar problems could well dog traditional training approaches with any ELDT rule.

At once, Minor suggested that limiting the complexity and cost of the rule may well hinge on some allowance, some way to preserve, traditional training approaches. “We heard a very important issue about how small a training program could be,” he said. “If we set the program up so that some of these traditional approaches can continue, that will minimize significantly the cost of the program” and make the ultimate ELDT rulemaking that much more likely to get past the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for approval.”

June 15 is the committee’s deadline to finalize and submit a report to FMCSA outlining the terms of an ELDT Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Five meetings of the full committee are scheduled for the next few months: March 19-20, April 9-10 and 23-24, and May 14-15 and 28-29 — interested parties can track progress at the ELDTAC website.

Between full-committee meetings, subcommittees charged with addressing data and policy needs in certain subject-matter areas will meet via teleconference. At the February 26-27 meeting, subcommittees related to curriculum content, training method and testing in core, hazmat, passenger and school-bus areas were established. Likewise, subcommittees were convened on training certification, implementation/enforcement and cost-benefit analysis and data needs.

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