Paper Tiger?

The Tree Care Industry Association held a Legislative Fly-In during the summer before COVID, and we invited a couple of officials from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to talk to our group about impending Entry-Level Driver Training requirements for would-be holders of a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Peter Gerstenberger

Finding good employees is challenging enough. Finding an employee who has, or can get, their Class A or B CDL is like finding a four-leaf clover on a golf green. This has created phenomena like tree companies hiring truck drivers with no arboricultural experience just to drive vehicles, and manufacturers of big iron creating and marketing “under-CDL” units.

It isn’t easy, which is why industry leaders were overly anxious and even indignant at the prospect of costly and burdensome new requirements thrown in front of the prospective CDL driver. The presentation at our Fly-In didn’t convince anyone in the room, least of all me, that the new federal requirements would be easy to comply with.

By the time our industry became fully aware of this program, it had been in the planning stage for almost a decade and had such traction and political momentum behind it that we couldn’t have put the brakes on if we had wanted to. Yes, puns intended. We had no choice but to figure out how to comply.

The new law had four basic elements: 1) There would be more robust requirements for theory training and testing; 2) there would be more rigorous guidelines for behind-the-wheel, on-the-road and “range” training and testing; 3) states would basically be required to bring their procedures into alignment with the new federal program; and 4) the FMCSA would create a Training Provider Registry (TPR) where all prospective CDL driver-training entities would have to register.

There were initial rumors about the egregious number of hours the training would take, using training manuals several inches thick.

And now (as of February 7, 2022), the new law has arrived. The FMCSA has issued statements to the effect that they never intended to impose burdensome requirements on hours of training required. The TPR is easy to access, easy to use and filled with literally hundreds of training providers, including more than a few TCIA member companies that want to administer their own training. One “self-certifies” to get on the registry, which means it’s a straightforward process with reasonable documentation requirements.

A colleague in the industry, who owns a medium-sized tree business in the Midwest, related his experience registering: “I just registered and was approved for all three types of training: theory, BTW (behind-the-wheel) range and BTW road. The list of topics in the theory requirements matches almost exactly with the paper manual provided by my state’s Department of Revenue CDL manual. The only thing missing is the tests, which I hope to track down from another source, even if I need to pay for them.”

The registry is easy to use. From a standing start, I went online and in one minute, 11 seconds, I found there were 197 providers of public, online theory training and testing for Class A and B.

As one who has dealt with a lot of regulatory-affairs issues for our members over a long, long period, I didn’t see this one coming. Finding CDL drivers isn’t going to get any easier, but maybe, just maybe, it didn’t get any harder.

Peter Gerstenberger, publisher

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