UniteGPS – If you’re planning on driving a school bus in 2022, say goodbye to the days of preparing for the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) exam at your own leisure. Come Feb. 7, new federal CDL training will require school bus drivers to enroll in a certified course to satisfy federal hiring requirements as authorities prepare to streamline an often fragmented training process across states.
On one hand, legislators believe that revising the ELDT requirements will foster safer standards and more consistent driver training procedures on a national level. On the other hand, school transportation officials are hesitant about its implementation during a national bus driver shortage and pandemic.
Well aware of hiring challenges ranging from part-time schedules, historically low wages, long waiting times in between examinations, not to mention older age demographics of bus drivers vulnerable to COVID-19, some school transit officials are feeling the crunch.
“It’s very tough because now, for somebody to come in from the street, I just can’t send them up to the DOT office to get a CDL,” said Director of Transportation Merrill Mueller Jr. from Algona Community School District in Iowa.
“Now I have to pay for schooling or they have to pay for schooling and we’re not getting the 55 to 65-year-old people walking through the door wanting this job because of the requirements it is taking.”
Health concerns over COVID-19 are another valid concern for bus drivers, according to CEO of Unite GPS, Chris Bunnell. When it comes to drivers being onboard a vehicle with 70 unvaccinated or mostly unvaccinated students, many don’t feel comfortable working in such conditions.
“That’s a pretty high bar to cross and one of the major reasons the school bus driver shortage has been exacerbated,” said Bunnell. “Piling on to the problem are these increased standards related to the CDL license. The timing could not possibly be worse.”
Background of CDL Policy Changes
Established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, prospective CDL holders driving a school bus will need to pass a standardized curriculum based on theory and behind-the-wheel (BTW) instruction from an official entity. These include a CDL school, local trade group, community college, non-profit, etc.
Upcoming changes to the ELDT policy are not retroactive, so anybody who was issued a CDL or hazardous material (H), passenger (P), and school bus (S) endorsement before Feb. 7 won’t need to obtain new credentials. Less than a month to go before these alterations rules come into effect, aspiring CDL drivers must still fulfill pre-existing state guidelines for full compliance with the law.
DMVs across the United States have traditionally facilitated the road exam without any written test requirement. Applicants could also practice for the CDL road test with another licensed driver, whether it be a friend or family member.
CDL Entry-Level Driver Training: Theory and BTW
With the new curriculum consisting of theory and BTW components, the legislation primarily affects individuals pursuing their first Class A or B CDL. The revised legislation also applies to those upgrading their license or pursuing H, P, and S endorsements for the first time. Whichever the case, one must enroll with a qualified instructor from a pre-approved training provider.
Before taking the actual CDL exam, applicants must show proficiency in over 30 theoretical areas ranging from post-crash procedures to hazard perception. Sources say that there’s no minimum number of hours one needs to dedicate to the theory portion. The CDL applicant continues to the driving portion once they pass the theory with a score of 80% or higher, which also gets reported to the FMCA.
Moving forward, the BTW part breaks down into two categories: range training and public road training, each with its respective requirements. Even though the ELDT doesn’t set a minimum number of hours, CDL entities must record and share the student’s amount of practice driving time.
In the end, the FMCA will collect data about the number of training hours to potentially make new legislation if there’s a correlation between lack of driving hours and incidents, for example. States still have the liberty to require a minimum number of BTW hours.
How does the ELDT affect CDL training providers and instructors?
New ELDT guidelines also enforce rules as to where CDL drivers receive official training, meaning everything must now go through a formal process. From this, training centers will need to join the soon-to-be-implemented Training Provider Registry (TPR) to become federally certified.
In the development stages, the TPR will eventually serve as a directory for every approved training provider in the country. Only certified schools or other accredited agencies within the TPR database can facilitate the ELDT process based on how they fulfill the curriculum, facilities, vehicles, and equipment, as well as employ instructors.
How to become a certified CDL training provider?
Any entity intending to become a certified training provider first needs to apply electronically to join the TPR. A representative from the organization then self-certifies that it meets the requirements and confirms to only teach the approved curriculum. With this, they must also comply with documentation requirements in case of an FMCSA audit.
Approved training providers then receive a unique ID number in order to become part of the TPR. This number will remain part of the trainee’s record in the Commercial Driver’s License Information System.
Instructors also have to follow certain protocols in order to work with an approved CDL training provider. For example, they must possess a CDL of the same or higher class for which they are training. Qualified instructors also need at least two years of experience driving the same commercial vehicle or two years of BTW teaching.