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Florida's CDL Exemption Bid Puts Trucker Wages in Jeopardy

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Photo Source: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Driver training schools are advocating for increased flexibility in Florida's current CDL training regulations, asserting that such adjustments, if sanctioned by safety officials, could significantly curtail lost wages for drivers. 

The chairman of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), Danny Bradford, has submitted comments on Florida's exemption petition, emphasizing the potential benefits of added flexibility to address skills testing delays.

Bradford contends that these testing delays have considerable economic ramifications, citing an independent economic analysis from 2016 commissioned by CVTA. 

In the report published by Freightwaves, the analysis suggested that these delays have put job opportunities on hold for a staggering 258,744 drivers, resulting in over $1 billion in lost wages. 

Notably, this economic impact extends to an estimated loss of $234 million in federal income taxes and $108 million in state and local sales taxes that would have been generated in the absence of such testing delays.

“These delays put jobs on hold for 258,744 drivers and resulted in over $1 billion in lost wages for these drivers,” Bradford stated.

The timing of this push for flexibility becomes particularly significant in light of improved driver wages. 

Bradford refers to a study by the American Trucking Associations indicating an 18% increase in driver compensation between 2019 and 2021. As such, the economic stakes of testing delays have risen, making the proposed changes even more pertinent for the current landscape of the trucking industry.

The heart of the matter lies in the three-part CDL skills test, which consists of a pre-trip inspection, basic vehicle control skills, and on-road skills. 

Current federal regulations mandate that these segments be administered and completed in sequence. If an applicant fails one part, they are precluded from starting the next immediately, requiring them to return on a different day to retake all three sections.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) has sought an exemption, aiming to allow prospective new drivers, at the discretion of skills testers, to continue testing subsequent segments even after failing the pre-trip inspection or basic vehicle control skills. The applicant would then be permitted to return at a later date to retest only the segments they previously failed.

Supporting this exemption, Bradford also raises concerns about the potential deterioration of a new driver's skills due to testing delays. He argues that the longer an applicant has to wait for a CDL skills test, the further they get from the training received to prepare for the exam. 

“The longer an applicant must wait to take a CDL skills test, the further they are from the training they received to prepare for the exam,” he said. “Allowing an applicant to test as quickly as possible and begin their job means they will continue repetition in the skills needed to be a safe commercial motor vehicle operator and will retain more of what they learned in their training.”

In endorsing the agency's exemption, the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), representing over 500 companies in cargo-tank services, aligns with CVTA's viewpoint. 

NTTC emphasizes that if the petition is approved, skills testers in Florida can allocate less time to areas where drivers have already demonstrated competence, thereby increasing the efficiency of the CDL credentialing process.

However, the proposed changes have not been universally embraced. Some express safety concerns, arguing that permitting an applicant to continue testing after failing the pre-trip inspection is not only unsafe but also irresponsible. 

“Given the well documented commercial driver shortage, it is imperative that we reduce barriers to individuals attaining the proper credentials for operating commercial vehicles,” wrote William Lusk, NTTC director of education and government relations.

“The FMCSA rules set forth say a pre-trip must be done and the driver must be sure the vehicle is in good operating order prior to moving the vehicle. Allowing the test to continue goes against that rule as well as what the CDL schools are trying to teach.”

These dissenting voices point to existing FMCSA rules that stipulate a pre-trip inspection must be done, and the driver must ensure the vehicle is in good operating order before moving it. 

Allowing the test to proceed, they contend, contradicts these rules and undermines the core teachings of CDL schools regarding vehicle safety.

Another perspective in opposition suggests that if new driver applicants struggle with successfully conducting a pre-inspection, the focus should be on improving the quality of training provided by instructors.

 The argument is that with proper training, none should fail, and enhancing the training process should be the priority rather than making allowances for test retakes.

“Maybe we should toughen up on the instructors to do a better job of training individuals,” the commenter wrote. “I have trained and tested thousands of new drivers, and with proper training, none have failed. It’s all in the training.”

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