One of the most domestically significant industries is in constant need of employees. Commercial trucking has been estimated as having a driver shortage of roughly 35,000 to 40,000 people, with trucking companies needing to recruit nearly 100,000 new drivers a year over the next decade to match U.S. freight needs. Great news for people looking for work, and also for the economy, right? Well, the answer is: It depends.
Like many jobs, training and the proper licensing are required in order to operate a semi. These requirements are not only in place for the sake of efficiency, but also for safety. Driving a big rig is not the same as driving the family sedan or the two-door coupe you drove in college. While it’s true that driving is not everyone’s idea of an ideal career, lack of interest is not the main problem facing trucking companies today.
Consider the current (and past, and probably future) political landscape: It seems no one can agree on just how much government oversight is the right amount. The trucking industry is no stranger to that age-old debate. When you consider the fact that there are 50 states with their own governments (and rules and regulations) plus a lack of sufficient funding to supervising agencies like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) all mixed together with the industry’s borderline desperate need for drivers, it’s no wonder 39 states allow trucking companies to outsource their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) testing to third-party contractors.
More testers mean an increase in test availability, which means fewer backlogs and a reduced wait time. More supply generally translates into the ability to cut costs, also. No-brainer? Think again. The other 11 states and the District of Columbia choose not to use third parties. They think that outsourcing CDL testing increases the risk of fraud… and there is some compelling evidence to support that theory.
A 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report stated that the mission of the FMCSA includes ensuring that drivers have the knowledge and skills required to safely drive commercial vehicles. However, the GAO goes on to reveal that “weaknesses in FMCSA current oversight of CDL skills testing prevents the agency from providing reasonable assurance that state CDL programs comply with applicable federal regulations,” and that “FMCSA and states face competing priorities in their efforts to ensure CDL programs, including skills testers, supply businesses with the safe drivers they need to operate.”
It would appear some testers have already taken advantage of the holes in the umbrella. In New York, a Brooklyn commercial driving school teacher helped 375 students cheat on the written test – and only 93 passed a retest. The rest failed the retest, gave up their license, or did not show up to take the retest, leaving officials to call the situation “a potential hazard to public safety.” A scam in Florida handed out more than 600 fake CDLs to Russian-speaking drivers. These licenses came after the administrators let the applicants pass fake and/or nonexistent skills tests. In California, a bribery scheme from 2011 to 2015 resulted in the revocation of over 600 CDLs. Three truck driving school owners allegedly shared bribes of as much as $5,000 with three DMV employees in order to get CDLs for students who had not taken and passed the written and driving skills portions of the CDL test. More than 20 accidents have been linked to these potentially fraudulent CDL drivers.
Putting unskilled drivers on the road is a danger to the public, including other truckers who share the road with them. When the unskilled drivers show up in the news, it damages the image of drivers and companies who play by the rules, further hurting the recruitment effort. As shown by the above examples, many times the drivers themselves are also victims of CDL truck driving schools that lure prospective students into class through the promises of big money and guaranteed employment. Yet, some of these schools are not legitimate opportunities while others take on students (and take their money) knowing that their chances of being hired by any motor carrier is next to zero due to speeding tickets, DUI’s, accidents and even felonies on their records.
So, what makes for a reputable school that is truly in business to train the safe and qualified truckers that the economy needs? The Truckers Report says:
Accreditation – A good school will have accreditation by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
Certification – The program meets or exceeds the Professional Truck Driver Institute standard, including a least 44 hours of actual drive time.
Cost – Consider the cost of the school in relation to the number of hours behind the wheel, and look for hidden fees that may not be included, such as obtaining a permit, drug screening, insurance, and more.
Drive time – Trainees should get at least 44 hours of actual driving time, not including observation time.
Equipment – Well-maintained recent model tractors and trailers, including weighted trailers, should be used.
Facilities –Classrooms should be clean with audio-visual capabilities, with a library and practice driving range available.
Financing – Reputable schools will have financing options.
Instructors – Teaching staff should have at least three years of driving experience, as well as educational experience.
Placement assistance – While no school can guarantee a job, they should provide assistance in finding one after graduation.
Program length – At least three weeks is recommended for adequate drive time.
Student-to-truck ratio – One student per truck allows for individualized attention.
With the trucking industry facing a critical driver shortage, and as one of the few jobs for which overseas outsourcing is not an option, the need for close oversight of the CDL approval process will only increase. The FMCSA has to continue to find ways to balance fraud risk with the states’ need to mitigate delays in test scheduling by using third-party testers. The GAO mentioned that a special committee has been assembled to advise the FMCSA on minimum training standards. New training standards mandated by the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Legislation have yet to be finalized. Forming a strong group of regulators to establish a uniform test for all potential truck drivers may be a possibility, but not without more funding. Perhaps the call to action will come if states are added as defendants in lawsuits where someone has been seriously injured or killed by a truck driver who has a fraudulent CDL from a state that has been put on notice by well-publicized examples of such fraud within their borders.
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