What's more important for turning entry-level drivers into professional drivers: logging hours behind the wheel or performance-based training?
This issue was one of several discussed at a recent two-day Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration committee meeting to set entry-level driver standards. The scope of the Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee (ELDTAC) is to help FMCSA establish "the training regulations to address knowledge and skills for motor vehicle operation, specific requirements for hazmat and passenger endorsements, create a certificate system for meeting requirements, and require training providers to demonstrate that their training meets uniform standards.'
In a straw vote, attendees rejected standards based solely on the number of hours spent practicing in the driver's seat. The consensus favored a mix of demonstrative skills as well as hours behind the wheel but the exact amount of each is still under discussion.
"There needs to be hours based and competency-based standards," says Marlene Dakita, Certification Coordinator at The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) who attended the meeting. PTDI's own standards updated in 2011 state: 'The curriculum combines competency- (proficiency-) based training and a minimum of hours-based training necessary to achieve industry standards. Lessons involve classroom/lab instruction and practical application behind the wheel, on the range, and on the highway.'…. She added: "They [the updaters] specifically tried to move standards towards the proficiency/competency."
Along with establishing the best hours/competency mix for entry level drivers the committee is also considering at what point after a CDL has lapsed would a driver again be considered to be at the entry level. A maximum of six months appeared to be a time at which a driver would not be subject to entry level requirements although a refresher course might be appropriate, according to some attendees.
Also under discussion was a rule that would create a national registry of driver training programs. These programs would have to comply with new rules and FMCSA would only accept graduation certificates from schools on the accepted list.
"We're hoping that any new rules would go along the line of what PTDI does already," says Dakita, who adds that the biggest challenge is how to handle small carriers that might have their own training curriculum or someone teaching a friend or relative how to drive a truck.
According to MAP-21, the current highway funding law, owner-operators are permitted to train drivers, however, Scott Grenerth OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs suggested that a registry of programs and trainers be established which would help FMCSA to weed out substandard performers.
For the committee's recommendations to be accepted by the Office of Management and Budget it must pass a cost-benefit analysis test proving that the safety benefits of entry-level training rules are cost effective. In other words, that they are worth the money and time spent on implementation and operation.
The next meetings be held April 9-10 and 23-24, and May 14-15 and 28-29, 2015. The meetings are open to the public.