Entry-Level Driver Training for Fleets: One Law, But Many Shades of Gray

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Adapting to the Variables in the New Entry Level Driver Training Standards

On Dec. 7, the FMCSA formalized new Entry-Level Driver Training rules, capping a faster-than-normal rule-making process. The new standards are much broader and more robust than most within the industry expected and perhaps, even desired.

The Shades of Grey in the Standards

Under the ELDT rules, the industry has until February 2020 to adopt the new training standards. As the case with many federal rulings, it is one law that can be expected to produce many shades of grey as each state seeks to “soften” or “harden” aspects of the ruling to address current and anticipated industry challenges.

Industry challenges such as driver shortages, instructor shortage and long wait times for license examiners are ever-present and show signs of getting worse. Looking beyond the challenges, the industry can find success. But true success will ultimately come from engagement and commitment to the new driver training standards as well as greater instructor qualifications and attention to standards.

 

It's an interesting road ahead after the FMCSA took a very lax approach to defining "driver proficiency."

How Do Your Instructors Define Proficiency?

The new federal law for training entry-level drivers requires 30 knowledge and skill areas. In an 11th hour decision, FMCSA turned away from a time basis approach to training of key skills. For example, FMCSA abandoned a minimum number of 30 hours for the behind-the-wheel portion of entry-level driver training for fleets. Now it is up to individual instructors and trainers to determine the proficiency of the student driver. Those are instructors employed by your fleet.

Focusing on the student’s proficiency is great, but the fact that proficiency is now defined by individual instructors makes consistency a huge challenge. Even at a well-run CDL school, getting a consistent measure of what “proficiency” means (and ensuring all of a school’s instructors follow those self-imposed standards) will be a big undertaking

Create Your Own Consistency to Combat the Variables

Alignment of proficiency standards — making sure that every student hits the same benchmarks — usually requires a lot of rigor and effort. Schools must select the right people to be instructors. And they have to provide initial training of the instructors on the standards and definitions of “proficiency.”

Plus, at some point, there should some level of instructor performance review or school audit as a quality control measure. One element that well-run schools should all adopt: A continuing learning program for the instructor. All instructors need to be kept up-to-date on trends in safety and innovative tools like driver simulation.

So if we accept that the instructor is a variable that needs ongoing management, how can a school or fleet ensure consistency when training new CDL students?

How will you steer your fleet's training into a brighter place?

Online Courses for Both Instructors and Students

The use of online training can go a long way in achieving consistency. Online course content, which can be used for any or all of the new ELDT law’s 30 knowledge topics, delivers the same message each and every time without variation. And it tests student knowledge without any subjective evaluation. This helps keep the curriculum objective, managing against the substantial level of subjectivity that instructors apply.

Additionally, tests taken online have the added benefit of recording results automatically into what’s called a learning management system (LMS). The LMS is a great way for any training provider to keep thorough and comprehensive records on student progress. Lastly, online lesson content frees up instructor time to put towards valuable hands-on, in-person training that requires the skill and experience of a good teacher. That could be answering questions, driving on the range, or behind-the-wheel time. This makes the training provider both efficient and effective.

Combining best practices with new clarity on the Entry Level Driver Training standards will definitely be a challenge. But it is one the industry can and must accept to prepare drivers for a long and safe career. There may be many shades of grey in adoption of the new ELDT law, but there is ultimately one black-and-white goal: a safe and productive driver.