Entry-level driver training: New rules starting February 2022

By Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, Consultants to Axele

Did you know there are new Entry-Level Driver Training rules starting in February? Here’s what you need to know.

2021 saw the supply chain thrust into headlines like never before. Consumer anxiety rose as retailers struggled to keep up with orders due to delays at ports, intermodal facilities and distribution centers, and a shortage of equipment needed to move the freight inland. This was exacerbated by reports of a ballooning truck driver shortage despite rising wages. Some pointed to well-intended programs like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, which has sidelined over 75,000 drivers to date as cause for continued concern on driver supply. Now, new Entry-level Driver Training (ELDT) rules that go into effect on February 7, 2022 are raising similar worries. But what are the ELDT rules, to whom do they apply, and what will be their impact on the driver supply?

To whom do the new rules apply?

Beginning February 7, 2022, any driver seeking a new Class A or Class B commercial driver’s license (CDL) are required to complete specific training before they are able to take the CDL skills test required by state licensing agencies. Drivers looking to upgrade from a Class B to a Class A or adding a Hazardous Materials (H), Passenger (P) or School Bus (S) endorsement are also required to complete special training. Drivers who obtain their CDL before February 7, 2022 or had been previously issued a CDL but it has expired are exempt from the new training requirements as are drivers who enter the industry through the military skills test exemption program.  Here’s a handy document outline to help drivers determine if they’re required to complete training.

What does the new training entail?

The mandatory training curriculum can be broken down into two categories: Theory; and Behind the Wheel (BTW).

Theory training is time spent in the classroom or in a virtual environment learning concepts of safe CMV operation, compliance with federal rules like hours of service and drug and alcohol use, and other non-driving activities like post-crash procedures, external communication, trip planning and whistleblower protection. Those seeking passenger, school bus, or hazardous materials endorsements will receive additional instruction related to these topics. While there’s no required minimum hours of instruction, drivers will need to score at least 80% on a proficiency exam to be successful.

BTW training is broken into two distinct segments and can only be completed after the driver has obtained a commercial learners permit from their state licensing agency. The first portion is range instruction. This focuses on activities drivers will perform off public highways. Examples include pre- and post-trip inspections, various backing maneuvers and coupling and uncoupling trailers.

The second BTW section is road instruction, which focuses on key activities and scenarios encountered on public roadways. Topics include common maneuvers like making tuns in traffic, handling curves at highway speeds and entering and exiting the highway, along with more advanced techniques like visual search, speed and space management, and hazard perception.

Like theory training, there is not a minimum number of hours drivers are required to spend in BTW instruction. Instead, drivers will need to repeatedly demonstrate their competence in each of the instruction areas to successfully pass the training.

What happens after passing entry-level driver training?

Once a driver demonstrates proficiency in all required topics, the training provider sends confirmation that training is complete to the driver’s state licensing agency. Applicants are not allowed to sit for the CDL skills test until after ELDT completion has been confirmed. This process can take a day or two. Once confirmed, the driver is only a skills test away from being a newly licensed CDL driver.

Who may provide training?

Training providers must register with FMCSA by self-certifying that their curriculum and instructors meet strict federal requirements. Drivers can visit FMCSA’s Training Provider Registry to choose the provider that best meets their needs. If necessary, drivers may receive theory and BTW training from different certified providers.

What’s the role of the motor carrier?

Motor carriers who hire entry-level drivers (those with less than one year of experience) will see their regulatory obligation reduced. Once fully implemented, carriers will no longer be required to provide entry-level drivers with remedial training in driver qualification requirements, hours of service compliance, whistleblower protections, and driver wellness as required in 49 CFR § 380.503. The presence of a CDL will demonstrate proficiency in these topics. Motor carriers who also operate truck driving training schools must self-certify that their programs comply with ELDT regulatory requirements and transmit results to state licensing agencies.

What will be the impact of entry-level driver training on driver supply?

For the most part, ELDT rules codify industry best practices in truck driver training. Most truck drivers entering the industry do so through a truck driver training school operated by a private entity, a public institution (like a community college) or a motor carrier. It’s true that some drivers obtain their CDL with little formal training, but that’s the exception not the rule. The difference is that these programs will now be more uniform and actively policed by federal auditors, meaning drivers will receive thorough and consistent training which will hopefully lead to improved safety. In addition, while in the short run the new rules may have some negative impacts on driver supply, in the long run this rule should lead to an increase in qualified and well-trained drivers who are committed to—and stay in—the profession.

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