With entry-level driver training requirements for new commercial driver license applicants on the horizon, some schools appear to be increasing the number of applicants ahead of new regulations set by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration.
The regulations consist of three modules: theoretical education, driving behind the wheel and driving on public roads behind the wheel. The training covers approximately 30 subjects and students must demonstrate competence and obtain a mark of at least 80% on the assessment. The new regulations – which were approved in 2016 – will come into effect on February 7.
After this date, anyone seeking a new CDL, as well as anyone upgrading from a Class B to A or adding a hazardous materials approval, will be subject to entry-level driver training regulations. For those not looking to clear these hurdles, the looming deadline is big.
“We are seeing a slight increase in registrations, but a considerable increase in calls,” said Austin Clement, chief operating officer for Clement Truck Driving Academy, in Lebanon, Mo.
Clement says they turned away drivers looking to sneak past the deadline.
“Our training standards have always been on par with mandates, so this is nothing new for us,” Clement said. “These riders want a one-day test, and that’s not our point.”
Not all CDL training schools are experiencing an increase in enrollment. Jeff Steinberg, owner of CDL Apex Institute in Kansas City, Kansas, said that while their numbers are down at the moment — mostly due to COVID concerns — 2021 has been one of their best years yet.
While Steinberg welcomes the new driver training regulations, he says there’s still a long way to go to fine-tune them.
“I’m not a fan of ELDT as it is currently written. I strongly believe an ELDT requirement was necessary, but not in its current form,” Steinberg said. “Through the negotiated rulemaking process, the FMCSA allowed the rule to be twisted by special interest. Now it’s just a big, convoluted mess.
Development of negotiated rules
OOIDA board member Bryan Spoon – who served on the Novice Driver Education Advisory Committee on Negotiated Rulemaking – says what they presented to the FMCSA was different from the regulations which will be deployed in February.
“The negotiated regulations didn’t skew anything out of vested interest. It was very simple and straightforward to get off the committee,” Spoon said. the one that started suppressing and distorting what the committee came up with.
With the roll out of the novice driver training regulations, prospective drivers will be required to take training at a school on the register of training providers. Some smaller schools fear they will be forced to close if they are not listed as a viable training provider.
Steve Henry, owner of American CDL training in St. Joseph, Mo., says it saw an increase in enrollment ahead of the February rollout. However, Henry is not in favor of the new terms and fears that they will be the end of his business.
“It’s probably going to put me out of business,” Henry said. “A lot more paperwork for me. It’s just going to be a lot more work.
According to their website, Henry’s company claims to provide potential drivers with “high quality training that will get you your CDL within 24 hours.” Business models like this will essentially be eliminated by the new mandate.
No one wants to see small businesses fail. However, Spoon says adopting higher standards for CDL training seems like an easy concept to embrace.
“The registry is easy to register and everyone is registered when it becomes active. Yes, there will be more paperwork and more responsibility and accountability in CDL schools. It’s a good thing,” Spoon said. “If you can’t keep records, maybe you shouldn’t be running a school.”
Although novice driver training regulations can hamper training centers like Henry’s, some large training providers are expanding to meet the demand for additional courses. President of Driving Schools Roadmaster Brad Ball says WTSP news that they plan to open seven more schools by the end of the year.
“A few years ago we had 13 schools and today we have 20. We plan to have 27 schools by the end of the year. So we’re doing our best to grow in the areas that need us the most,” Ball said.
The new novice driver training regulations are being rolled out at a time when driver safety and training is a hot topic. Proponents of the new regulations hope it will lead training centers to focus more on getting safe drivers on the road.
“If you are a school and reject higher standards or better training when it comes to ELDT students, then maybe you are wondering ‘am I here to really train better drivers or do you just love take the cash and pump out mediocre and below-average drivers as fast as you can,” Spoon said. LL