Trucking companies continue to add as many qualified drivers as they are able. Drivers are in short supply, and companies are doing everything that they can to fill positions. As of February 7, 2022, there will be new training standards in place from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) within the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that those applying for particular CDL licenses or wishing to upgrade their licenses must meet. The goal of these new standards is to provide some uniformity and hopefully make a meaningful difference in driver safety.
The backdrop of these new rules is the continued upheaval in the trucking industry. The workforce in the industry is aging, and companies are having trouble finding replacements. The hope is that these new rules will translate into truck drivers having more training before getting behind the wheel.
New Rules Come in the Middle of a Trucker Shortage
Interestingly, these new rules are coming into effect just as the federal government is trying to do everything it can to relieve supply chain disruptions and get more drivers on the road. Supply chain bottlenecks have been blamed in part on a lack of drivers able to transport goods to their destinations. However, these rules were finalized at the end of 2016, and their implementation was delayed several times. The entry-level training rules were only finalized after a lengthy comment process and several revisions.
The U.S. DOT has undertaken a number of measures to come to the aid of the trucking industry. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in late 2021 even allows truck drivers as young as eighteen (18) to make cross-country trips. The intent is that the FMCSA’s additional training requirements will counterbalance the additional risk.
CDL License Test Slots Are Already Difficult to Get
While there are federal standards and rules that govern the trucking industry, CDL licenses are issued on the state level. Right now, states are dealing with the effects of the pandemic, and many do not have enough personnel to keep up with demand. There are reports that Texans are desperate for driver’s license appointments, even camping out at night to get appointments at the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles locations. CDL licenses face significant backlogs and administrative delays. Between the pending new rules and the pandemic, the CDL issuance process is in a challenging state at the moment.
FMCSA’s Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT) regulations apply to entry-level truck drivers, including:
- Prospective drivers applying for their first CDL Class A or B license,
- Those with an existing Class B license who want to upgrade to a Class A license, and
- Drivers who are trying to get a special designation to drive a school or passenger bus or a hazardous materials endorsement
Before drivers can apply for any of these designations, they must take training from a provider that is approved by the FMCSA. The FMCSA will have a list online of approved providers who have registered with the agency once the ELDT regulations go live.
CDL Test Takers Need Evidence of Training
After February 7, CDL applicants will not be allowed to just show up and take a test. Before the state is allowed to administer the CDL test, it will ask for evidence that the applicant has completed the entry-level training. States cannot give just any form of tests without this proof, such as the knowledge exam. In January 2022, there has been a rush of prospective drivers trying to take the CDL exam before the training requirements go into effect.
Note that the new rules have no requirements about the minimum number of hours that CDL applicants must spend behind the wheel before they can qualify for their license. Instead, they must do the following:
- Obtain their training from a program that meets FMCSA requirements, and
- Pass tests administered on both a closed course and the open road.
In addition, there is also no hours-based requirement for knowledge training. The fact that the training providers are registered with FMCSA, however, should provide evidence of a meaningful and substantive training program that would form a strong knowledge base for the driver.