Depending on who you ask, the government has been working on an entry-level driver training rule since the 1980s, since 2007, since 2012, or since 2015. Now, finally, the rule has gone into effect… kind of.
Though it was initially supposed to go into effect on February 6th, 2017, the start date was postponed due to President Trump’s regulation freeze upon entering office. It was pushed to March 21st, March 22nd, and then finally to June 5th. June 5th has come and gone with no further postponement of the rule, so it is officially in effect. But the compliance date isn’t until February 7th, 2020.
The final rule makes two major changes to CDL applicant requirements. Drivers must be trained by an FMCSA-approved trainer, and drivers must pass a written exam as well as demonstrating proficiency on both a driving range and public roads.
Some new drivers are pushed through so-called ‘CDL mills’ with as little training as possible, so the FMCSA has decided to regulate who is allowed to train new drivers. According to the FMCSA, “many entities currently providing entry-level driver training… will be eligible to provide training that complies with the new requirements.” And while “many” does not equal “all,” the exact criteria the FMCSA will use to determine who is capable of properly training new drivers hasn’t yet been released.
In another attempt to increase new driver proficiency, the FMCSA decided to require drivers to pass a skills test both in a driving range and on a public road. This is to attempt to ensure that drivers can handle themselves in real-world situations. But some critics worry that a short drive even on a public road doesn’t do much to prove a driver can handle themselves on long hauls.
Despite including a minimum hourly behind-the-wheel training requirement in earlier drafts of the rule, the FMCSA removed that provision from the final rule. Many large carriers and the American Trucking Association applauded the move, saying that removing the requirement will make it easier to hire new drivers to fend off the driver shortage.
Defending the move, the FMCSA said that there was a “lack of data directly linking training to improvements in safety outcomes.” They then claimed that even if they had kept in the 30 hour behind-the-wheel requirement, crash frequency for new drivers would only drop by about 3.6%.