Lack of participation in a program meant to address a shortfall of drivers entering the trucking industry is forcing regulators to adjust.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will be extending its Under 21 Military Commercial Drivers License (CDL) Pilot Program beyond the three-year period typically set by Congress for such projects, according to FMCSA Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck.
“We are struggling trying to get drivers into the program,” Deck acknowledged during a regulatory update Friday at the American Trucking Associations (ATA) Management Conference & Exhibition, held virtually this year due to the pandemic.
“We’ve engaged the National Guard, the Reserves, and have gone out to speak to large classes of drivers being trained at various training facilities around the country, but we just haven’t made any headway. While the study is supposed to run for three years, it will have to be extended just because we’re not getting the drivers that we need to get a good sampling of data that we need.”
The agency announced earlier this month that it wanted to expand the program to include a wider array of military service specialties that it said would make an additional 30,000 service members eligible for the pilot, which began last year and initially sought to enroll at least 200 drivers. Deck said there were currently 42 trucking companies enrolled.
The FMCSA and the ATA have deemed the under-21 pilot projects — the agency is considering a nonmilitary, under-21 pilot as well — crucial to expanding the pool of available, qualified drivers.
“Nobody is collecting data on the under-21 drivers that are operating intrastate,” Deck said. “FMCSA is the only entity in the U.S. that can do this type of research because we are the only ones that have the authority to waive the necessary regulations.”
Deck provided updates on a number of other rulemakings and petitions, all of which are either currently under review within FMCSA or DOT, or at the Office of Management and Budget. They include broker transparency, changes to regulations to address automated driving systems, and using hair to test drivers for drugs.
Deck also updated the industry on two safety issues highlighted in a report published Friday by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General: truck crashes and trucking company safety scores.
A Large Truck Crash Causal Factor Study, being conducted with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will bring updated factors such as drivers distracted by cell phones into crash assessments, he said. “The purpose of the study is to expand on knowledge we learned 17 years ago,” he said. While data collection is expected to continue into 2021, Deck also noted that the study, which is estimated to cost $30 million, is contingent on federal funding.
With regard to assessing a new scoring system within FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, “we are making headway. We’re in final review of IRT [Item Response Theory] and how it can help improve our system of monitoring those high-risk carriers,” Deck said.
“It’s a challenging system, and the challenging part for the agency is to explain how we derive our numbers. IRT makes this a lot more challenging. We hope to make an announcement in the near future on the path forward we’re going to take.”
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