Once again, our American counterparts appear on pace to beat us to the punch when it comes to implementing a much-needed safety initiative.
This time, it is the FMCSA’s national Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT), which is supposed to come into effect in February 2020. Watching this program roll out, I would suggest that there is a lot that we can learn from this process.
This will be a national backstop program, meaning that across the country, there is now a minimum training standard.
Once this program is implemented, no one will be able to simply test for a commercial vehicle license, they will be required to take some form of entry level training.
This is something that the Manitoba Trucking Association’s (MTA) board of directors has discussed with a national training program: the need to ensure there aren’t any loopholes or opportunities to slip through the cracks.
By having one national program, a backstop, if you will, no drivers can take advantage of lower standards in one state or another. Further, if a state already has a testing standard in place that is higher than what the FMCSA is proposing, the higher standard remains in effect.
With that said, it has to be pointed out that saying “there’s a standard” has to actually mean something.
In Manitoba, drivers in the MELT program are required to complete 121.5 hours of training, consisting of 40 hours in-class, followed by 41 hours in-cab, as well as 40.5 hours in the yard. Instructors are able to access a government and industry-designed set of training materials designed to cover all of the content in the curriculum.
According to the FMCSA website, there is no required amount of classroom theory/knowledge training or set number of hours behind the wheel. In this program, a new driver’s ability to drive is at the discretion of the trainer.
No specific training materials have been developed by the FMCSA beyond what can be found in the appendices of 49 CFR 380. This is a government document, not training material. So, to say there’s a testing standard might not mean what we would anticipate.
Second, much of the program requires self-certification that is not overseen. While we want to trust that everyone who registers with the Training Provider Registry meets the requirements, based on what our industry has seen with self-certification of ELDs in the U.S., the question must be asked, “Have all of the requirements actually been met?”
Finally, this is a huge program, which has led to delays in implementation and the usual finger pointing. Getting all regions on board and developing the necessary infrastructure and automation is a huge undertaking.
This isn’t a surprise, nor is this unique to the FMCSA. The recently implemented carbon tax backstop program here is Canada also had huge infrastructure and wrinkles that are still being resolved. Unfortunately, what it means right now is that the ELDT program is in limbo.
Why is it important for Canada’s trucking industry to pay attention to this? First, these drivers will be driving in Canada, so we want to ensure their drivers are as safe and well-trained as ours (safety-related reciprocity is a longstanding issue in Manitoba between the MTA and Manitoba Infrastructure).
However, there is opportunity to learn from their program as well.
If we can learn from its deficiencies, such as by ensuring the infrastructure is in place well in advance of roll-out or by developing a higher standard that is accepted across the board, then I believe we will be working toward creating a more level, safer playing field for all carriers and new drivers.
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