By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter
This story appears in the April 1 print edition of Transport Topics.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Truck drivers and instructors told Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials they should mandate far more training for new drivers than currently required.
Many of the two dozen or so speakers at a listening session here were in agreement that too many driver training programs teach only basic skills and put drivers out on the road too quickly, which is hurting the entire industry’s image.
There was, however, no exact consensus on what the proper number of training hours should be.
The March 22 session during the Mid-America Trucking Show stretched more than four hours, giving anyone who signed up the opportunity to interact directly with FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro and four other top agency officials.
As each person in attendance spoke, many of the people assembled in a conference room at the Kentucky Exposition Center nodded in support while the FMCSA officials took notes and asked follow-up questions.
The session was also webcast, allowing interested parties not able to attend in person to have their comments heard.
Several of the truckers who stepped to the microphone said their passion for the profession — combined with growing concern for what they are seeing on U.S. highways — outweighed any anxiety about public speaking.
One speaker who was anything but shy was Greg Petit, an owner-operator who drives for Landstar System Inc.
“Turning out truckers . . . in two to three weeks is a joke,” he said. “I don’t care how good you are. You can’t learn to drive a truck in two to three weeks.”
Petit, who got into a heated exchange with Ferro at last year’s MATS listening session about mandating electronic logging devices for hours-of-service compliance, said he had informally surveyed drivers and concluded that some are getting far less training than they need.
“In my opinion, truck-driving schools should be a minimum of four months,” he said.
He said he was told some training programs never have students drive at night or in bad weather, or they use smaller trailers on trucks without sleeper berths.
FMCSA held this year’s session to gather input on regulations it is developing to require behind-the-wheel training for entry-level drivers.
Currently, drivers only need to take 10 hours of classroom training that covers basic knowledge.
In 2007, FMCSA proposed requiring 120 hours of training, most of it driving a truck. However, facing concerns over requirements that schools be accredited and objections over a rigid time-based curriculum, FMCSA did not move forward on its proposal.
In last year’s MAP-21 highway funding law, however, Congress mandated that FMCSA finalize the standards.
Lee Strebel, an owner-operator who has driven trucks for almost four decades, urged FMCSA to require an even longer curriculum.
“A trainee ought to be with a trainer or mentor for a minimum of six months before you send them out on their own,” he said. “It really takes that much time to really get a good feel of what we do out there and to really get a good grasp of safety and compliance.”
FMCSA should ban the practice of allowing trainers and trainees to be used as team drivers, said Jeana Hysell, a former owner-operator who now consults for trucking companies as the director of safety at Safety Compliance Professionals LLC.
“Motor carriers need to eliminate — or at least regulate — the team concept from training,” she said. “There is no way a trainer can train an individual while they’re in the bunk.”
Representatives of truck-driving schools urged FMCSA not to require that schools be accredited by a body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or that the curriculum have a minimum number of hours, two provisions that were in the 2007 proposal.
“To be quite blunt, accreditation is very expensive,” said Tom Hruban, general manager of the Truck Driver Institute in Christiana, Tenn. “For over 40 years, the trucking industry has recruited qualified drivers from both accredited and nonaccredited schools, with absolutely no evidence that the accredited programs lead to a safer or more successful hire, nor can accredited schools confirm superior job placement success or superior wages earned upon graduation.”
Lou Spoonhour, speaking on behalf of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, said performance measurements, such as audits or tests, should be used in place of an accreditation requirement.
“We think the answer to this whole entry-level driver training situation lies in performance,” he said.
Spoonhour, who owns DriveCo CDL Learning Center in Gary, Ind., said setting a minimum number of hours for instruction would be counterproductive.
“We know that each skill takes some amount of time. What we have a problem with is determining that ahead of time,” he said.
Kreigh Spahr, program manager for Cuyahoga Community College’s truck-driving school in Euclid, Ohio, disagreed with the other representatives of driving schools and advocated for an accreditation requirement.
“CDL training schools charge thousands of dollars for this training. This training is education. So it needs to be done in a way that the Department of Education can support this,” he said.
Accreditation would ensure that schools use a formal curriculum and could deter fraud, since accrediting bodies closely monitor the schools they certify, Spahr said.
“We believe that we should have the ability to arrange those hours for what is most beneficial for the student,” said Martin Garsee, the transportation director at Houston Community College. “Not every student learns at the same rate.”
By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter