One week prior to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s announcement that it is adding opioids to commercial driver drug screening, student transporters received the latest information outlining new federal mandates for entry-level school bus driver training.
The update on commercial driver drug testing was announced on Tuesday. The DOT explained that as of Jan. 1, 2018 employees will also be tested for four semi-synthetic opioids: Hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone. “The ability to test for a broader range of opioids will advance transportation safety significantly and provide another deterrence to opioid abuse, which will better protect the public and ultimately save lives,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
Meanwhile, the much-anticipated Entry-Level Driver Training rule goes into effect Feb. 7, 2020. It mandates for the first time certain minimum training for individuals looking to get or upgrade to a Class A or Class B commercial driver’s license, or a hazardous materials, passenger or school bus endorsement. Tom Yager, chief of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Driver and Carrier Operations Division, presented the information at the annual National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services conference in Columbus, Ohio.
According to the FMCSA, an applicant may not take the CDL test “unless he/she has successfully completed a mandatory theory (knowledge) and behind-the-wheel (BTW) training program.” Once completed, the FMCSA will provide confirmation of the pass to the state driver licensing agency, at which point it can be added to the driver’s record.
Yager explained that the mandatory training “has a lot of flexibility built into it, if you take advantage of that.” There are no minimum hour requirements for either training, he added, but the instructor must determine the trainee’s proficiency. The theory portion can be done online. The required BTW test must take place on a range and on a public road. The theory and BTW tests can be administered by different providers.
Anyone wishing to become a training provider must register with the FMCSA to be included on the Training Provider Registry (TPR). Yager stressed that the training provider is a location with a physical address, not a person or organization. Examples he provided of acceptable training providers included driver training schools, unions, vendors, motor carriers, school districts, and state governments. Associations cannot be training providers but they can serve as business affiliations or umbrellas to provide assistance or management.
“There is a process to register,” said Yager, explaining each location that applies will have to self-certify under penalty of perjury that they meet the federal requirements, which are listed in the rule. “It’s going to take a lot of quality control,” he added, to make sure that the locations stay up to standard. He added that if concerns are raised about a training provider, “we’ll be prepared for that.” Updates about the upcoming website to register on will be provided late next year at the earliest, he said.
Once approved by the FMCSA to be on the TRP, providers would then hire instructors to present and oversee the actual training. Instructors have to meet requirements like having their CDL and two years of experience in driving or classroom training, but they are not required to be on the registry.
NASDPTS President-elect Michael LaRocco of the Indiana Department of Education asked on Nov. 7 if associations could register one office then provide instruction at various locations. Yager responded that each location would have to register separately to be on the TPR.
Several NASDPTS conference attendees asked why there was not a standard curriculum for the theory training. “The program would be too big to manage if curriculum had to be approved,” Yager explained. He added that the rule contains objectives which instructors would need to ensure are covered. The FMCSA, he added, “wanted to give as much flexibility as possible.”
Yager reminded listeners that the current phase-in period of over two years is the best time period for states to pass legislation and modify driver licensing systems to record information about completed training, as well as for the industry to begin developing and offering training. “Now is the time to be thinking ahead,” he advised.