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Mandatory entry-level driver training: What does the industry really want or need?

It may seem a little like reaching into a nest of spiders but we’re willing to wade in on the subject of mandatory training for commercial truck drivers. It’s a topic that garners attention for periods of time, disappears from...


It may seem a little like reaching into a nest of spiders but we’re willing to wade in on the subject of mandatory training for commercial truck drivers. It’s a topic that garners attention for periods of time, disappears from discussion for a while, and then returns once again – it’s a cycle.

Opinions vary widely on the need or even the desirability of making such training mandatory. Some hold very strong views on the subject while others are indifferent. Accepting that there are disparate views, it seems to be basic common sense that some level of training is a good thing when it comes to jobs that require the level of skill and knowledge as that of truck driving. If we accept that premise, the headline questions become, what should standardized training consist of and who should ensure the standards are met? The myriad sub-questions fall out of those headings.

Most carriers would like the assurance that a newly licensed driver has attained a demonstrable level of training, skill, and knowledge that could make that driver a so-called ‘good hire’. Those carriers might support the concept of mandatory entry-level training coupled with standardized curricula, at least until the discussion turns to the cost of such training and the effect that might have on wages.

Of course employers are not the only ones seeking assurance that driver training is effective and meaningful.

The general public who share the roads with trucks want to know they are in safe company. Statistics confirm that experienced commercial truck drivers are among the safest drivers on the road – perhaps by a wide margin – but when we are discussing mandatory training, we are talking about new entrants to the field.

The students themselves should have a say in this as well. They have a right to expect that if they opt for training, what they are paying for meets some level of industry expectations. If nothing else, this is a consumer protection issue.

And of course there are certain schools that might love to hear that training is mandatory, but may not be quite so happy about having the standard of training determined and enforced by a third party.

It’s clear that mandatory entry-level training for truck drivers is a complicated issue and there are lots of reasons why it hasn’t happened – yet.

In most jurisdictions, it is seen as a basic right of an individual to challenge the test for a licence. If you fail, there’s always the do-over, the only cost being the additional fees for re-testing.

Ontario considered implementing training standards for truck drivers a few years back and during the consultations there was a good deal of talk about which existing programs were suitable as models that could be adopted for potential standards.

But the key question of how to enforce mandatory training standards couldn’t be answered because there were (are) not enough resources within the various ministries to ensure meaningful oversight.

In fact, at one point, it was suggested that any such program could be based on voluntary – rather than mandatory – training standards. I’ll leave it for you to think about how well that might work.

Our American friends are struggling with the same question. Back in 2007, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that proposed mandatory entry-level driver training standards for individuals applying for a commercial driver’s licence to operate in interstate commerce. They withdrew that NPFM in September 2013 and gave three reasons for doing so:

• During the public hearings there were ‘substantive issues’ raised which led the agency to conclude that it would be inappropriate to move forward with a final rule based on the proposal;

• Since the NPRM was published, FMCSA received statutory direction on the issue of entry level driver training from Congress via the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) reauthorization legislation;

• And the agency tasked its Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC) to provide ideas the agency should consider in implementing the MAP-21 requirements.

Apparently there was a lot of support during the hearings for the concept of entry-level training, but differing views on some of the key provisions of the proposal.

For example, some felt that the training should be performance based – ie., once the student demonstrates the ability to do a task, they move on to the next one. Others wanted a standard that included a minimum number of hours of training, and there was disagreement as to the number of hours of behind the wheel training that should be required.

The overriding question remains: what does the industry really want in the way of training and what is it willing to pay for?

During its time, CTHRC developed the Earning Your Wheels program at the request of segments of the industry that thought a high-level training program would be readily adopted. The program is there but has not been widely used, the most common argument being that it is too expensive. That’s the first contradiction. You can’t buy a Cadillac if you’re only willing to pay for a Chevette.

If a student is willing to pay a little extra for top level training, it’s reasonable that they should expect to move into a job that pays enough to offset the expense of that training; not many carriers think that way when it comes to drivers. That’s the second contradiction.

And if, at some point, there was agreement on mandatory training and its component parts, it would raise even more questions such as who should pay?; should it be subsidized?; which students would qualify for a subsidy or a loan?; should it be considered an apprenticeship program?’ and how much bureauocracy would we need to manage the whole thing to the results that we are looking for?

The road to mandatory entry-level training consists of many hurdles. The first is agreeing that we need it.


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1 Comment » for Mandatory entry-level driver training: What does the industry really want or need?
  1. Bwv Plummer says:

    I have been preaching on this same subject for 20 years. The apprenticeship program should include Heavy truck and Tractor trailer drivers. Most other trades have an extended period of supervised training up to several years for some, but when it comes to the most important trade in the world there is little or no extended periods of paid training.
    Some of the better trucking companies offer a few weeks of on road training mostly with a “trainer” that has little or no real teaching ability and while most of them do their best they don’t have the training themselves to do the job.
    I have talked to novice drivers who were told by their trainers that they had to be able to do a full 10 hours behind the wheel the first day or they would never be a driver, or they had to drive the posted speed limit in torrential rain in the dark! I have had some who could do more than an hour at a time the first day and they are still out there making a living driving. You don’t learn to be a master mechanic, carpenter, machinist without extensive training, and if you screw up there’s very little chance of causing the horrendous damage of a truck wreck. Why then do we still expect to send a driver out on the road after a few weeks?
    The on road trainers need to be taught to teach, they need to earn the right to teach these new drivers.
    The companies that do this will benefit in the long run.

    Wishing every one a Merry Christmas, and a safe and Happy New Year.

    Bev Plummer
    Professional Driver Ret

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