CDL Schools Say Proposed Training Standards Would Make Driver Shortage Worse

March 25, 2013

By Deborah Lockridge

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FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, right, and a panel of FMCSA officials listen to comments about proposed entry level driver training regulations.
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, right, and a panel of FMCSA officials listen to comments about proposed entry level driver training regulations.

LOUISVILLE -- In a Friday "listening session" the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hosted regarding its proposed entry-level driver training stories, truck driver training school officials warned that the proposal would make the current driver shortage even worse.

As FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro explained during opening remarks in the Friday afternoon session at the Mid-America Trucking Show, the agency has been working on this for more than two decades. Back in 1991 Congress ordered safety regulators to start work on a training rule. A 2004 rule requires new drivers to know basic information about the job, over and above the skills they need to pass the CDL exam.

Advocates for Highway Safety sued, saying that the lack of a requirement for road training is a fatal flaw in the rule. The court agreed and forced the agency to take another look. That led to a 2007 proposed rule that would require anyone applying for a new or updated CDL to graduate from an accredited program that includes road training as well as class training.

Last year's highway bill, MAP-21, requires the agency to post a final rule by October. The most recent version would require anyone applying for a new or updated CDL to graduate from an accredited program that includes road training as well as class training.

"We received lots of comments," Ferro said, "and as we worked through those areas of concern and recommendations, we realized we really had more work to do as an agency in understanding the impact training has on the safety of a driver's operation, and the right components of that. We understood the accreditation requirement would create barriers, and that performance-based standards might be a better way, but we are still very open to additional input before we finalize the next phase."

The agency realized, she said, that it lacked input on the simple question of how much safer a trained driver is in the long run.

"I think almost anyone you talk to about it says on the face of it we've got know that training is required if you're going to operate in the complex environment of commercial vehicle operation."

The supporting facts and data as to exactly how much and what kind of training, however, were not there, she said.

Brent Quire, a Con-way Freight driver and trainer with 38 years of experience and more than 2 million accident-free miles, gives the panel information on Con-way's driver training school.
Brent Quire, a Con-way Freight driver and trainer with 38 years of experience and more than 2 million accident-free miles, gives the panel information on Con-way's driver training school.

This was illustrated by the comments of Brent Quire, a Con-way Freight driver and trainer with 38 years of experience and more than 2 million accident-free miles. Con-way, he said, has graduated more than 1,000 drivers from its training school over the past three years.

"Our graduates have shown improved safety performance compared to similar-experienced drivers who were hired and did not go through the school," Quire said. However, when asked by the FMCSA panel for statistics on safety and performance before vs. after starting the driver training school, he was unable to provide them.

A Call for Performance-Based Training

Driver training school representatives at the listening session argued that mandatory numbers of hours behind the wheel is arbitrary and that there is no evidence proving that a certain number of hours automatically means quality training. The accreditation standard, they argued, would cost schools too much money and end up increasing the cost and availability of driver training to students, at a time when the trucking industry is facing perhaps its worst driver shortage ever.

Lou Spoonhour, representing DriveCo, Gary, Ind., and the Commercial Vehicle Training Association of 180 truck driver training locations, called for performance-based standards. As an example, he cited the backing portion of the CDL test, which requires you to back a tractor-trailer 100 feet in a 12-foot-wide lane.

"I can tell you from our experience, we have students who can get in that truck and the first time back can do it perfectly. It would be very difficult for someone to explain to mandate that everyone has to do this for a specific time frame to work on this particular skill."

Driver training school executive Tom Rhuban pointed out that accreditation is very expensive. "This may seem like a self-serving statement, but it has far-reaching consequences," he said. "Small single location schools cannot shoulder the additional expense, while large schools such as ours have the cost multiplied. This forces smaller schools to close and keeps large schools from growing.

FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro speaks to one of the people offering their comments during Friday's listening session.
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro speaks to one of the people offering their comments during Friday's listening session.

"We also feel it will restrict U.S. job growth. It's well documented there's a shortage of trained drivers and demand far exceeds the ability of schools to supply. How can legislation that reduces the opportunity to put people back to work be a positive step?" he asked, adding, "For over 40 years the trucking industry has recruited qualified candidates from both accredited and non accredited schools with no evidence the accredited schools are better."

Don Harris, director of compliance with New England Tractor-Trailer Training School, contended that "accreditation does not provide uniform oversight. Each accrediting body has different standards. Typically, the school must submit itself to lengthy process that can take two years or longer."

Harris called for flexible, performance-based standards, noting that some students might acquire skills faster than others, and some students might miss some of the training due to sickness or family issues.

Martin Garsee of Houston community college, representing the National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools, said his members offer programs ranging from three weeks to 10 weeks.

"We believe we should have the ability to arrange those hours in what is most beneficial to the student," Garsee said. "Not every student learns at the same rate. I think the one thing that is different in truck driver training [from other forms of education] is it is truly one on one training."

No Proven Effect on Safety

John Frey, associate vice president of driver school relations for Werner Enterprises and a board member of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, noted that the CVTA's 18 schools in its Motor Carrier Committee last year hired 50,000 pus graduates, the majority of those from private, non-accredited schools.

"The Motor Carrier group investigates schools to determine the quality of the programs and continues to evaluate the quality of these students. Programs vary from 150 to 480 hours in the number of hours in the program, but to date, we've found no culpable difference of safety records of graduates basted on the type of school or accreditation status."

The CVTA's Motor Carrier Committee has a number of serious concerns with the current proposal, Frey said, saying it has no proven effect on improving highway safety.

Like others commenting during the listening session, Frey said, "Our experience does not suggest that a shorter or longer program is a better program or produces a better or safer driver. Whether the student can perform to the standard may be more significant than time behind the wheel."

In fact, Frey contended that requiring a minimum number of hours is going against the latest thinking in education circles. He cited a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, "Beyond the Credit Hour," which reported that:

"The U.S. Department of Education has endorsed competency-based education with the release today of a letter that encourages interested colleges to seek federal approval for degree programs that do not rely on the credit hour to measure student learning."

"Currently there is a well-documented shortage of drivers," Frey said, "and this rule could seriously impede the ability to recruit drivers and the number of drivers coming into our industry," he said.

While we don't know what its effect will be on highway safety, Frey said, "What we do know is it will increase costs. Accreditation will drive some good but marginally profitable schools out of business and discourage new schools. Anything that will increase the costs of students receiving their CDL needs to be very carefully evaluated in the cost benefit analysis."

Photos by Evan Lockridge

Related Story: FMCSA Advisory Panel Takes on Driver Training


  1. 1. Roger [ March 25, 2013 @ 05:46AM ]

    Simple effect of supply and demand. There isn't a shortage of commercial drivers, there is a shortage at the current price companies are willing to pay to drivers. Raise the compensation and the "shortage" will go away. The oil industry forces fuel price changes at a whim and transportation companies (and thus the entire population) are forced to pay. There is no means available for drivers to force appropriate compensation levels.

  2. 2. Jim [ March 25, 2013 @ 09:30AM ]

    Roger, Pay is only 1 of 3 and maybe the 3rd major factor in the shortage. Quality of life (time away form home) and qualified youth (too many with unclean records or unmotivated) are the 2 major facters in the possible 'impending" shortage.

  3. 3. george mudgett [ March 25, 2013 @ 10:29AM ]

    New regulations on drivers everytime I read a truck magazine is enough to discourage any good drivers from wanting to stay in trucking. Who wants to drive knowing law enforcement can pull you over anytime and put you out of service for whatever reason. Too many easy ways to make a living without having to put up with all the BS from people who we are paying for through our tax money.Glad I'm almost out of trucking!!

  4. 4. Peter D. Ohmart [ March 25, 2013 @ 11:18AM ]

    First; I understand the need for safety in any industry. Second; I am truly tired of all the pressure placed on the trucking industry to improve. I feel that a great deal of pressure needs to apply to the authorities who give out licenses to automobile driver and make them responsible for approving their ability to have a license. I think too many people have licenses who cannot read the English language at a high rate of speed (like on a highway) and then have to make a decision. I know for a fact that the average reading and comprehension level of Americans today is between a 6th and 8th grade level as shocking as that sounds, it is true. Third: There needs to be more responsibility placed on police to stop motorists for simpler violations (failing to use turning signals, unsafe vehicles, not having the correct headlights on such as daytime running lights in place of proper headlights, etc) rather than looking the other way. That breeds an attitude "Give me an inch, now let me see if I can get a mile" attitude. As ABC has broadcasted in reports; 85% of all wrecks involving cars and large trucks, it has shown that the car was at fault 85 times out of a 100. Fourth & final thought: We can train to death the trucking industry and not the automotive industry and is that not only like putting a band aid on a severed leg? If we are going to make the demand on the trucking industry, we need to make the same demand on the automotive industry to have the same training and testing. It would only be foolish to think that fixing one half of the problem will fix it all and do not think people in the trucking industry are fools.

  5. 5. Bill Langer [ March 25, 2013 @ 01:05PM ]

    Peter covered a real big part for me thanks Peter. Now the unspoken, Every Safety group wants to say truck drivers are the professionals,When in fact we are classified as non skilled labor and paid as such.We also get blamed for everything bad, and charged for it! ( oh you are the pro you should've be able to save them) Good safety record Regulators doing ( not the drivers) Bad safety record Drivers doing not the regulators! So lets em pose more regulation on new drivers, make it more expensive, wonder what will happen? Maybe we need another multi million dollar study to tell you guys the obvious.

  6. 6. Jerry Fritts [ March 25, 2013 @ 02:47PM ]

    Every one should know that about one dozen drivers, including myself, also spoke before the FMSCA panel. We refuted most of the testimony given by the training schools. FMSCA heard very clearly evidence presented by the drivers regarding our everyday experiences with inadequately trained drivers. Some gave personal examples of phoney driver trainers that only had a month or two OTR experience, spent more time in the sleeper than training and how large truckload carriers just use trainees as just another team operation, etc. I proposed to the FMSCA that to attain the level of compliance they are seeking, the drivers need to be empowered, so as to be able to refuse to violate federal regulations at the demand of truckload management without jeopardizing their careers. That FMSCA needs to include representatives from the Dept. of Labor and Osha at these listening sessions! I also pointed out that " it is 2013 and truck drivers need to be included in the 1932 Fair Wage and Standard Act because there are more laws on the books protecting itinerant farms workers than law protecting interstate truck drivers"! "With DOL and Osha as advocates for truck drivers maybe we could afford to operate compliant" I demonstrated how the "predatory human resource policies" are the real problems, as new drivers are no more than willing victims of truck load managements deceitful practices. Other very well spoken drivers gave similar personal evidence of these practices. The driver group cheered some of our speakers and believe me, the FMSCA were taking lots of notes and asking drivers very relevant questions. At times the faces of the FMSCA panel demonstrated shock at what they were hearing from the drivers. Strange how none of that was mentioned in this article!

  7. 7. Kurt [ March 25, 2013 @ 04:20PM ]

    In the late '70s prior to deregulation, the Carretta trucking company advertised that there drivers earned $48,000 a year. Lots of drivers today would be happy with that wage, but the reality is if you use the government's cost of living calculator, $48K in 1978 becomes almost $171,000 in 2013. There are no drivers earning that kind of money (some O/O's may gross that!) Truck driver's wages have not kept up with the rest of the economy. And the shortage is an insufficient number of people willing to suffer with these wages for the requirements of the job.

  8. 8. PAUL SAVINO [ March 25, 2013 @ 04:25PM ]

    You HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING ! ! ! Really , you have got to be freaking kidding ??? I am so sick and tired of hearing that there is a driver shortage, i have heard this bullcrap now -on and off- for the 25 years i have been driving. But i must admit, i have not heard it that much as i have over the past 4 to 5 years. For those past few years it seems like that is all i here from trucking companies,,, DRIVER SHORTAGE- DRIVER SHORTAGE. Now let me tell you all the REAL freaking truth. Listen up, THERE IS ( I REPEAT ) THERE IS NO NO NO DRIVER SHORTAGE !!! DO YOU HERE ME ??? What there is is a shortage of PAY. I can give you the names of 15 guys right now who quit driving in the past few years because no one wants to pay much more than minimum wage . Who the hell wants to go out there for 60 hours a week, beat there bodies to hell and get a shit paycheck on friday ?? would you ??? What the hell happened to seniority ? I am going to tell you right now what this industry needs, it is nothing more than a major crackdown by the DEPT. OF LABOR/NLRB. BECAUSE THESE TRUCKING COMPANIES DO THINGS YOU WOULD'NT EVEN IMAGINE !

  9. 9. Martin Garsee [ March 26, 2013 @ 08:05AM ]

    Jerry I was at the listening session and heard the comments, I appreciate the drivers passion for what they shared. I also congratulate the drivers on their years of accident free miles; you all truly understand what it takes to be a safe driver. I have been around driver training for 20 plus years, the last 17 in truck driver training. Most of the issues that were brought up by the drivers were company issues not driving school issues; we are training students to do it correctly. Most violations by reported by CSA they relate to human behavior problems, speeding, HOS, things not discovered in a pre-trip etc. not lack of skills they were taught. Entry level standards would be what it takes to receive a license not what it takes to become an experienced driver. I speak for my school, we teach it correctly, and I challenge any student or former student to prove otherwise. We provide the tools for the student to be successful, what happens when they walk out the door is their responsibility.

    Truck Driver Training schools do no train or employ driver trainers, (the ones that were mentioned out on the road) these are company employees therefore entry level driving standard would not apply to the inadequate trainers that are on the road. New drivers are influenced by others; we need more drivers with a passion to do it right and safe.

    As you mentioned we are all striving for the same thing, safe roads for all of us.

  10. 10. Tanya Bons [ March 28, 2013 @ 08:07AM ]

    The problem is not in the schools that strictly run training but in the schools that are built into trucking companies and rely on their training only. Private and public schools train students for much longer periods of time and then most send their students to starter companies which add at least two additional weeks onto the training. Students that attend truck company sponsored programs get just a fraction of training, some hit the road on their own in as little as two weeks.

    I agree, CDLs should be performance based BUT students need more than two weeks training before they're left to go out on their own.

    Drive safe!

  11. 11. Deborah Lockridge [ April 01, 2013 @ 07:00AM ]

    Thanks so much to those of you who shared the driver comments. This particular story focused only on the driver shortage angle, but it was not meant to reflect the entire listening session.

    Interesting thing about the driver shortage -- one of our Truck Fleet Innovators, who has never had a problem because his drivers are almost all home every night or at the very least every weekend, is just flabbergasted because he has 25 empty trucks and has never had that problem before. I know a lot of the "driver shortage" is simply churn (drivers going from one company to another because they're not getting enough pay/hometime etc.), but this and some other comments I'm hearing make me think maybe there really is something to it this time.

  12. 12. Doug [ May 02, 2013 @ 04:31PM ]

    As a former driving student and CDL holder I Attended Tranco in Perrysburg,Ohio we had class and on and offroad training and what gets me is why isn't An automobile be required to take drivers ed?? In Ohio only teens between 15 1/2 to 18 it is manditory. There are so many drivers that don't know what a solid line means or a no passing zone or how to merge on an Interstate at a proper speed or that you yeld to a cross walk!!!

  13. 13. Billy [ July 19, 2013 @ 09:43AM ]

    For those with experience. Isn't it insulting when a recruiter hasa on your application say 10 years experience and acts shocked if you ask what the pat practices of the company are? Ask if they pay detainment , ah , duh,. Ask about break down pay and accomodations if overnight repair is required another duh. Ak if they pay a bonus for passing a DOT inspection.
    Dang insulting at least to me they think we are that dumb. Buy the way I doub't if I get back into a rig with the slave wage, slave treatment drivers get.

  14. 14. tracy george [ September 19, 2013 @ 03:40PM ]

    There is a driver shortage and it is mostly due to poor pay. As a small company owner I would love to pay the driver what he is worth. The freight rates will not allow it. So I say, let the driver shortage get worse and when the freight doesn't get moved on time the shippers manufactures, brokers will pay. If we want more qualified drivers we need to pay them more. We do not need to, should not put ,unqualified drivers in these trucks. I think the fmcsa morons can not come up with a good program because the big truck companies do not want them to. You see my insurance company will not allow me to put inexperienced drivers on the road, they will not let me put drivers with previious problems on the road. But these big companies put anyone with a heartbeat behind the wheel. As I stated a week ago and in earlier comments: Drivers if you drive for a big company you are part of the problem, by driving for peanuts you allow these companies to undercut the freight rates, when the freight rates are cut so is the pay to the driver. I think the solution is quite simple. I do not care who gets the license or if they went to school, I do not think a school prepares a person for going over the road. EXPERIENCE IS THE MOTHER OF ALL TEACHERS. You can not go interstate driving unless you are over the age of 21. You should not be able to go interstate until you have a certain number of hours of behind the wheel and a certain number of hours of observation . I am talking like 2 years of APPRENTICESHIP. They want to call us professional drivers well then lets be professionals, lets have training like any other professional out there. Yes there will be a shortage, but safety starts with the driver.


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