U.S. moves closer to tougher driver training standards

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Entry-level truck drivers in the U.S. will face newly mandated training requirements as of Feb. 7, 2020.

But the new training standards set out by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will not define the minimum number of in-class or in-cab training hours, as previously advocated for, says Laura McMillan, vice-president of training and development at Instructional Technologies. Instead, a registered carrier will need to certify that someone with a Class A or B learner’s permit is “proficient” in 31 topics before a road test can be scheduled.

Those with a learner’s permit before Feb. 7, 2020 will be allowed to complete their licensing under the old requirements, as long as it’s done before the permit expires.

McMillan, who is also a member of the FMCSA’s advisory committee to suggest and approve the new regulations, offered an update on the tightening training regime during the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual convention.

The 31 topics are divided into 12 areas, with each area given a recommended method of delivery and a placement in training curriculum. However, there are few hard and fast rules for how the curriculum should be delivered.

Categories will include basic operation, safe operation, advanced operating practices, operating systems, reporting malfunctions, and non-vehicle activities for the classroom portion, skills on the range and on the road, and specialized information for those dealing with hazardous materials, school buses, or passengers.

Trainees will be able to take the in-classroom portion of the training in a traditional classroom, online, or through a combination of both. And the in-cab portion of the training can be done, in part, through the use of simulators to help trainees experience extreme weather and driving conditions, but it is not necessary to include a simulator component.

While the FMCSA regulations say driver trainees must be “proficient” in each of the 31 topics, there is no definition of what “proficient” means in the regulation. McMillan says the generally accepted definition of “proficient” is when the student can complete a task successfully eight times out of 10, but the definition is still subjective.

While the FMCSA committee originally wanted there to be a required number of in-class and in-cab hours, much like Ontario’s 103.5 mandated hours, McMillan says the feedback the group received from the industry pressured the committee to change its mind and go with the current system instead.

Those in the U.S. military who currently use their vehicle endorsements and training to transition into trucking will still be able to obtain a commercial driver licence through that program if their state allows it.

All training schools will have to be registered with the FMCSA — even if they belong to a group or association that maintains elevated curriculum standards. However, there is currently no active registration process or a timeline for when that will be available, McMillan said.

Schools will also be subject to periodic reviews and audits by the FMCSA once they are registered, but there is currently no timeline or mechanism for how that will be carried out, either.

Once the training is completed, training schools will have to submit their certification and have it received before a trainee is allowed to schedule their final road test. This closes a current loophole that allows tests to be completed and passed before evidence of training is submitted.

That system will be an online, automated portal, which has yet to be designed.

McMillan says she expects the developments that still need to be made will come with a “reasonable buffer” period for schools and drivers, and will be rolled out hopefully over the next year.

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