Written by Sean Garney, Director of Safety Policy for the American Trucking Associations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published new rules on December 8, 2016 that require entry-level drivers to complete special training designed to ensure that they are competent and prepared to maneuver an 80,000 lb commercial motor vehicle safely before they can take their skills test to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
These new training requirements will change the way motor carriers qualify inexperienced drivers, how insurers rate these drivers and how many new drivers enter the transportation industry. It has been a long time coming.
The first action toward establishing proper training protocols for commercial truck drivers came in 1985 when the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued its “Model Curriculum for Training Tractor-Trailer Drivers,” making its adoption voluntary.
When in 1986 the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act established a CDL program requiring knowledge and skills tests, the National Transportation Safety Board called on the FHWA to require more formal training as a prerequisite to a CDL.
In 1991, heeding NTSB’s call, Congress acted again with a provision in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which required the Department of Transportation (DOT) to commence a rule-making on the need to require formal training for all entry-level CMV drivers.
Two years later, FHWA did just that, issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and commencing a study designed to assess the adequacy of CMV driver training.
The study, whose final product would come to be known as the Adequacy Report, was published in 1996 and found that of the three private sectors studied (heavy trucks, motor coaches, and school buses), none is “effectively providing adequate training.” 
Over the next 20 years, the Department of Transportation would issue two proposed rules, one withdrawn proposed rule, and two final rules, would be subject to two court rulings, and undertake a rarely used rulemaking procedure called a Negotiated Rulemaking.
So, why has this been so difficult?
In the thousands of comments submitted to the docket on the various ELDT rulemakings over the years, very few commenters have ever opposed new driver training.
Virtually every segment of the industry has joined hands with safety advocates and law enforcement to say “this is important to us!” But, it’s not the concept of driver training that stokes disagreement, it’s how the rule is implemented in the end.
The devil, as they say, is in the details.
Intuitively, we understand that more training equals safer drivers. Indeed, the safest among us invest considerably in training programs.
In fact, the ATA Safety Investment Survey completed in mid-2016 found that, of those surveyed, motor carriers spent an average of $707 in training per driver in 2014. 
Safety is big business, and being safe has direct implications on the bottom line. The problem? How do we do it effectively?
Remember that Adequacy Report? Well, it had two primary findings.
Aside from discovering that more could be done to provide acceptable training effectively, the report also determined that, while formal training is key to safety, available data does not conclusively tie the amount of training received to the driver’s future crash risk.
Twelve years later, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) published the only other study to investigate the correlation between the amount of training a CMV driver obtains and safety risk.
After culling through data on 16,000 drivers, ATRI found that “no relationship is evident between total training program contact hours and driver safety events when other factors such as age and length of employment are held constant.” 
What was becoming clear is that more important than how much time a driver spends in training is whether or not the driver is retaining that training and can translate it into roadway safety.
Truly effective training programs will focus on outcomes, not process. The question we must ask is, can the CMV driver maneuver the vehicle safely, every time?
Asking, how long has this driver been in training is irrelevant and not a measure of safety. Competency trumps time spent training every single time.
Take these two scenarios for example:
Mr. Competency grew up in Iowa, working on his family farm. He’s been legally driving heavy machinery and large trucks since well before his 21st birthday when he becomes eligible to obtain a CDL. Mr. Competency is experienced with the handling characteristics of large vehicles, can shift an 18-speed manual transmission, and knows what off-tracking is and how to back a vehicle from the blind side. Unfortunately, Mr. Competency is stuck in a training program that strictly abides by a time-based curriculum. Instead of earning money and moving freight, he’s sitting in a classroom, bored and inattentive.
Mr. Time, on the other hand, grew up in New York City, home of traffic jams and public transportation. He just received his driver’s license not too long ago and is looking for a career change. Trucking seems like a good fit for a hard worker who hasn’t had the chance to see the country, so Mr. Time enrolls in a truck driving training school. Going into his first day of training, Mr. Time is a blank slate. He’s never sat behind the wheel of a big rig before, has never shifted a manual transmission and has no concept of the operating characteristics of a heavy truck. There’s no doubt that Mr. Time will take longer to train. In fact, he may need more time than what the training course allows. What Mr. Time needs, is to be judged on his ability to safely control a CMV, every time he gets behind the wheel, not how long he has spent training.
Fortunately, the FMCSA entry-level driver training final rule published in early December rejected the time-based approach included in their initial proposal for a competency-based approach unanimously backed by a panel of experts at last year’s negotiated rulemaking proceedings.
With this important change, the final rule makes significant gains in almost every way. It makes great strides to stamp out fraud in the training industry and to relegate the long loathed “CDL mills” to the annals of history.
It requires all prospective CDL holders to take training before they can take their CDL skills test, something never before required.
The rule also requires new comprehensive curriculum for Class A and Class B drivers.
This curriculum includes extensive classroom training which culminates in a written exam.
Classroom training is complete when the student can answer 80% of the exam questions correctly – a competency-based standard.
Thankfully, passing the behind-the-wheel training portion is not simply a matter of time.
According to the final rule, the driver must demonstrate mastery of the required maneuvers before they can complete the entry-level driver training and take the CDL skills test.
Thanks to the last-minute change of heart by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Entry-level Driver Training Rule is a long-awaited great leap forward for highway safety.
 Clemente, Rich, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Minimum Training Requirements for Entry-Level Commercial Motor Vehicle Operators, Briefing for Motor Carrier Safety advisory Committee (MCSAC), December 3, 2012.
 D’Agostino, Nicole and Costello, Bob, American Trucking Associations, ATA Safety Investment Study, Arlington, VA, July 2016.
 American Transportation Research Institute, A Technical Analysis of Driver Training Impacts on Safety, Arlington, VA, May 2008, pg 15
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The American Trucking Associations prepared these materials for HireRight for informational purposes only. These materials are not intended to be comprehensive, and are not a substitute for, and should not be construed as, legal advice. The American Trucking Associations and HireRight do not warrant any statements in these materials. Employers should direct to their own experienced legal counsel questions involving their organization’s compliance with or interpretation or application of laws or regulations and any additional legal requirements that may apply.