Two recent rules from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will help tighten hiring and training requirements for drivers — but whether or not they will exacerbate the driver shortage is up for grabs.
The first rule requires that previous employers respond within 30 days to prospective employers investigating an applicant. In addition, previous employers must go back three years to confirm employment and provide information about a worker's crash incidents, alcohol and substance abuse violations and rehabilitation efforts. They're also required to say whether or not rehabilitation was successful.
While this new rule closes some much-abused loopholes, not everyone is happy with the change, which took effect on April 29. “The 30-day period is too long,” says Dave Osieki, vp for safety and operations at the American Trucking Assns. (ATA). “Large carriers won't hire a person if they can't get this information sooner.”
Osieki adds that while small carriers may accept the one-month wait, larger carriers need to hire in a more timely manner, especially because of the current high driver turnover, booming economy and lack of new drivers entering the industry.
ATA, the Truckload Carriers Assn. and other stakeholders would like to see a five-day turnaround for hiring records. Osieki adds that ATA may file a petition for reconsideration and ask that the 30-day period be reduced. He notes that the ruling may end up reducing the pool for larger carriers, shifting it to smaller carriers, who often have greater leeway in hiring times.
The chance of FMCSA changing the 30-day period is slim. According to Osieki, “Although FMCSA could specify a shorter response time, the agency is cognizant that the majority of motor carriers that will be required to provide this information for the time being are small businesses, and a shorter response period would be a burden for them.”
On the same day that FMCSA announced this ruling, it published another one concerning driver performance. Again, it has the potential to shrink the driver pool. The agency announced minimum training requirements for drivers of Longer Combination Vehicles (LCV) as well as instructors. Even if drivers have state CDLs with LCV endorsements, they must still meet these new federal requirements effective June 1.
Training must include driving and non-driving activities such as route planning and cargo securement. To qualify for doubles training a driver must have six months' experience in vehicles over 26,000 lb. To enroll for triples training, drivers must show six months' experience with truck-tractor/semi trailer or twin-trailers.
Instructors will be divided into two groups, one for classroom instruction and the other for on-the-road skills. Classroom instructors do not need a CDL or any LCV driving experience to instruct or test drivers in areas that don't require actual truck operation. “However, only a skills instructor may train or test driver-candidates in those skills requiring operation of an LCV or one of its components,” the ruling notes.
It's unclear whether the new LCV rules will reduce the driving pool because most carriers have stringent requirements already. On the other hand, if the economy keeps growing and more carriers decide to run LCVs, they could find themselves without enough qualified people to driver them.
What is more likely to lead to a reduced driver pool is the proposed fingerprinting of hazmat drivers, which has been postponed again until next April by the Transportation Safety Administration. The proposal has been delayed because states were not given definitive fingerprinting instructions or criteria, according to state administrators. “We don't know the cost involved, how they [TSA] want us to do it, how they want us to transmit it. We don't know much more than we did last year,” said one state motor vehicle official.
Industry officials are concerned that if the fingerprinting costs are too high or too much of a hassle, drivers will decide not to renew their hazmat endorsements, a position voiced by many drivers and union leaders when the proposal was first aired.