By John Kearney
Shortly before the end of the year, word came down from the Department of Transportation that a long-awaited set of federal standards for entry-level truck driver training—which the industry expected would be implemented in February of this year—will be delayed until 2022. On the face of it, this is bad news. There are, to put it mildly, varying levels of quality and professionalism in the nation’s CDL training schools. What we need are some rules and some enforcement: here’s what you’re expected to teach your students, and here’s how we’re going to make sure you do.
The good news—or part of it—is that DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have reaffirmed their commitment to provide exactly that, even if not right away. CDL training providers will be required to register with FMCSA, who will track their success and failures and hold them to teaching a certain set of skills. Providers with substandard performance will be removed from the register and denied the right to continue training new drivers. The delay, apparently, is mostly technical; to do all this there will need to be a digitized central registry, and FMCSA is still figuring out how to set it up, maintain it, and keep it secure.
Once the rules are finally adopted and the register secured, it seems almost certain that virtual-reality electronic simulation will be part of any approved driver training curriculum. Trucking has a two-edged problem, safety and numbers. High-tech training will be the catalyst for hiring the next generation of drivers, and also for making them as safe as they can be. Without standardization of instruction—including the use of simulation—both safety and hiring will suffer.
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