The SMART Act: Safe, Mentored and Responsibly Trained
A Framework to Tackle the Most Serious Safety Shortcomings in Truck Driver Training
Improving Basic Driver Training & Testing
Unqualified trainers are commonplace
Schools often prioritize passing the CDL test over ensuring a driver has the knowledge required for safe and compliant driving
Current required training is extremely limited and not focused on safe driving
Standards to ensure qualified Instructors and Examiners
Candidates must show proficiency in safety and compliance subject areas before they can take the CDL test
Training information becomes part of the driver’s record
DOT gains the ability to audit Instructors to ensure they are focused on safety
Qualified Driver Trainers Instructing Every New Truck Driver
A critical element to improving entry-level driver training for new long-haul drivers is ensuring that they are learning from qualified instructors who fully understand the curriculum and have been trained in how to teach new drivers and how to provide them with feedback.
The SMART Future Truck Drivers Act sets basic standards for the trainers who will be instructing driver candidates from behind the wheel of a truck. These “driver skills instructors” will also be responsible for determining when a driver candidate has obtained proficiency in a subject matter area. Driver skills instructors will need to meet the following basic standards, plus any additional requirements as set by the FMCSA:
To obtain their certification, prospective driver skills instructors will need to show a minimum level of safe experience within trucking. To verify that they meet these requirements, the prospective driver instructor must electronically submit the following to the FMCSA for review and verification if necessary:
An outline of the driver’s career in trucking, including what carriers he or she has worked for, where they have operated, and how many years of experience and miles the prospective instructor has driven;
The driver’s violation record for the past five years; and
A listing of any at-fault accidents over the driver’s career.
Following submittal of this information, FMCSA will verify that the information submitted meets the requirements as set out in the SMART Future Truck Drivers Act and FMCSA regulations. The agency will then issue the driver skills instructor an electronic certification with an individual ID number. FMCSA will have the ability to audit instructors and may revoke their certification at any time with cause. 6
Ensuring all Training Programs and Schools Prepare New Truck Drivers for the Road
While many schools and community colleges do a good job preparing a new trucker for the road, too many schools across the country offer a prospective driver “guaranteed passage” on their CDL test instead of taking the effort to ensure they know how to operate the vehicle in real-life situations. All FMCSA requires is that new truck drivers receive instruction in the following regulatory areas: driver fitness requirements, hours-of-service compliance, whistleblower protections, and driver qualifications regulations. No actual instruction in how to safely operate a truck is required.
Improving the required driver training curriculum is a needed step to ensure that the new trucker becomes proficient in the safe and efficient operation of a tractor trailer while also understanding FMCSA regulations and other matters of importance to a trucker without the stress of meeting a delivery schedule or other influences that reduce focus on safety.
The FMCSA shall develop driver training curriculum standards for long-haul interstate Class A truck drivers that at a minimum require a driver skills instructor to certify proficiency in the following areas before the driver candidate can take the CDL test:
basic operations, including airbrakes and trailer handling;
safe operating procedures, including speed and spacing, collision avoidance, defensive driving, communication with other vehicles, the relationship of cargo to vehicle control, rollover prevention and controlling the vehicle on up and downgrades;
operating in special conditions, including nighttime driving, hazardous weather, congested traffic and around pedestrians and bicyclists and emergency maneuvering;
vehicle maintenance and inspection, including inspecting and servicing safety-critical equipment;
weight distribution, cargo securement, and hazardous materials safety regulations with additional training as needed;
maintaining driver fitness, including personal health on the road, fatigue awareness, and the impacts of drug and alcohol use;
FMCSA regulations, inspection procedures, seat belt use, distracted driving, and other enforcement activities;
professional truck driving behavior, including fuel-efficient driving practices, trip planning, first aid, homeland security and human trafficking awareness, and accident response; and
driver, carrier, and shipper relations, including workplace harassment and coercion, whistleblower protections, and individual carrier rules and requirements.
Certifying Training & Improving CDL Testing
The improvements to the driver training requirements would be of limited benefit without a requirement that the driver candidate’s proficiency in the various subject matter areas be certified by an FMCSA-certified driver skills instructor prior to the candidate completing the CDL testing requirements.
Driver skills instructors must certify proficiency electronically by recording their driver instructor number.
Once proficiency in all areas has been achieved and certified, an electronic training certificate will be issued. This training certificate, which shows where the driver was trained and by what instructor becomes part of driver’s permanent record and will show up as part of a pre-employment screening so that carriers will know where the driver was trained.
The electronic training certificate also enables the driver candidate to complete the CDL testing requirements to obtain a full-term Commercial Drivers’ License. The SMART Future Truck Drivers Act requires the following improvements in the CDL testing process:
Driver candidates will be required to take both a more in-depth written knowledge test and a road skills test.
The road skills test will be conducted by an examiner who meets the same requirements as a driving skills instructor and who also has been certified by the FMCSA according to the same procedure.
Road skills tests shall be conducted with a loaded box or flatbed trailer, and the agency may issue specific requirements regarding vehicles used during the road skills test to ensure that they reflect common configurations used in long-haul tractor-trailer operations.
Evaluation of Improved Training & Testing
The SMART Future Truck Drivers Act requires an outside evaluation of the improved training and testing requirements seven years after they are put in place by regulation and to issue this evaluation as a Report to Congress.
The evaluation shall compare seven years of accident records of new Class A drivers going through The SMART Future Truck Drivers Act training and other CDL drivers who were not required to go through the training due to the nature of their operations.
The evaluation shall focus on the effectiveness of specific training requirements in reducing accidents and whether or not the training requirements should be expanded to other trucking operations.