By Tim Frazier
Demand for commercial truck drivers nationwide has reached a critical point, and it’s only going to keep growing for the foreseeable future. With the current strain on the world’s supply chain, pay and earnings have gone up significantly for truck drivers — a career that was already a well-paying path to the middle class for Americans without a college degree.
But misinformation about new national training standards may be keeping qualified prospective drivers away from turning to trucking as a career. It’s so important that the public and members of our trucking community understand the difference between fact and fiction when it comes to the new federal Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) requirements that go into effect on Feb. 7, 2022.
These new requirements establish a single, national standard for obtaining a commercial driver’s license. The new requirements were first mandated by Congress back in 2012, and to be clear, this rule has been a long time coming with a diverse group of stakeholders involved in its drafting.
So what is changing with these new training requirements? For most current drivers and motor carrier fleets that have a structured training program in place today, the truth is — not that much.
It is important to note that if you already hold a commercial driver’s license, for the most part, you will not be affected by these new training standards. You’re essentially grandfathered in.
The revised ELDT regulations only apply to drivers seeking to 1) Obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) for the first time; 2) Upgrade their existing CDL from Class B to Class A; or 3) Obtain a new hazmat, passenger or school bus endorsement.
And despite rumors spreading on social media, the process for obtaining a CDL will not markedly differ from what takes place today. Prospective drivers will still be required to complete theory instruction and behind-the-wheel instruction before taking their skills test to obtain their CDL. There is also no minimum number of hours as part of this training. The new ELDT simply means everyone will be using the same training curriculum nationwide. And we believe that will vastly improve the consistency of entry-level training.
In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that 85 percent of entry-level drivers already receive training curricula that meet the ELDT requirements.
In Alabama, there are 15 public CDL programs offered through the Alabama Community College System and several private training programs, and most if not all of the programs we are aware of already meet or exceed the new standard. We hosted meetings throughout the state in January in partnership with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to educate stakeholders on these changes, and most of the time was spent clearing up misinformation surrounding the rule.
Most training providers won’t have to change their programs to comply with ELDT requirements. There are no required minimum instruction hours for theory training. Training providers must use assessments to determine if trainees are proficient in all units of the theory curriculum. There are also no required minimum instruction hours for behind-the-wheel (BTW) training. Training is complete when the training provider determines that a trainee is proficient in all elements of the BTW curriculum.
There are also no new exorbitant costs nor minimum training hours required with the new ELDT. Prospective drivers do not have to go to a truck driver training school and can still receive training from the same places they are offered today. For carriers, this means if you conduct in-house training today, you’ll still be able to do so after the new ELDT rule becomes effective.
However, what will change is that training providers will soon have to meet minimum training requirements set forth in 49 CFR §380 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, issued back in 2016, and then register online with FMCSA’s Training Provider Registry.
These new rules establish consistent and effective training requirements and will help reduce the failure rates for the state driver licensing agencies-administered skills test, thereby helping drivers to obtain CDLs more efficiently and improve the supply chain.
Additionally, the Training Provider Registry will make it easier for new drivers to find qualified training providers, increasing the likelihood that a prospective driver signs up for and completes training.
How does this help the public?
Research from the American Trucking Associations estimates that the U.S. needs about 80,000 additional truckers on the road to meet the economy’s current freight demands. To fill that gap, we must make entry into our field obtainable, affordable, reliable, and most importantly, safe .
Our organization is already implementing creative ways to attract a new generation of workers to the industry. We have researched and established target audiences who are most likely to benefit from a career in trucking, and we are rolling out workforce development ad campaigns to attract the next generation of drivers and service technicians — our industry’s greatest workforce needs.
Professional drivers deliver more than 86 percent of all goods to Alabama communities. We have more than 112,000 Alabamians working in our industry. We need more individuals to join our ranks to move both the state and national economies. The good news is that the new ELDT rule will not negatively impact the ability for new drivers to enter the industry, despite misinformation you may have read on social media.
Tim Frazier is vice president of safety & compliance for the Alabama Trucking Association. He is a trucking industry expert with more than 40 years of experience in fleet safety, maintenance and management working with some of the region’s largest and most successful fleets. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.