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Driver training rule phase-in on course despite technical concerns

Photo Credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

The federal government’s entry-level driver training rule is not scheduled for implementation until February 6, 2020, but the industry’s major carrier representative worries that still might not be enough time to ensure a smooth rollout.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) ELDT rule, which sets minimum standards for general knowledge and behind-the-wheel (BTW) training that is required to be provided by a facility listed on a special government-run registry, has been delayed several times.

The initial delays, coupled with concern over whether the database will work as promised and a lack of public information on the status of the program, has raised red flags at the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

“It’s a huge IT project, and there are things that FMCSA has to do, such as creating the website for self-certification for training providers, that we haven’t heard is on track and will be ready” by February 2020, Abigail Potter, ATA’s Manager of Safety & Occupational Health Policy, told FreightWaves. “We just want to be sure.”

Training providers listed on the website, to be known as the Training Provider Registry, will be required to submit notification electronically to FMCSA that a driver trainee has completed the required training. FMCSA will provide that information to state driver licensing agencies through its Commercial Driver’s License Information System.

States will be allowed to keep their own entry-level driver training requirements that exceed the new federal minimum standards. However, those states with higher standards will be required to accept the skills test results from trainees taken in other states for those seeking a license in a state with a higher standard.

This situation could occur, for example, if a trucking company provided entry-level driver training in one state, but the state in which the prospective driver lived – and in which he/she would be applying for a license – was another. “Any ELDT requirements that may exist in the licensing state would not be applicable to the driver-trainee who obtained skills training outside that state, even if the he or she returns to the licensing state to take the skills test,” the rule states.

Potter acknowledged that such a scenario is the exception: drivers will most likely complete their training and take their skills tests in the same state in which they will be applying for their CDL.

“But California and Washington have decided to go above and beyond what FMCSA has mandated, and while they can do that under the rule, our concern is that they may still not accept the outside test results” due to potential communications gaps and lapses in the transmission process, she said. “If they choose to go above and beyond the federal standard, we hope they accept out-of-state training.”

An FMCSA spokesman stated that concerns over rollout of the new rule are unwarranted, and that there was nothing to indicate the rule would not rollout on time and as planned. “The entry-level driver training final rule was published on December 8, 2016, and since that time, the agency has been working on its implementation,” the agency added in a statement.

In addition, because the FMCSA is supported by money through the Highway Trust Fund, the agency has not been closed during the partial government shutdown. Therefore, the agency’s policy rollout should not be affected.

The three-year period between when the final rule was published and its compliance date was to give the states time to pass their own legislation to implement the rule within each state, and to modify their IT systems to record CDL applicant compliance with the minimum requirements, according to FMCSA.

The phase-in also allows time for driving trainers to develop and begin offering training programs that meet the eligibility requirements for listing in the training registry.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.