“There’s a lot of up front costs, on top of the academy tuition and the time spent not making a paycheck during the first half of the training. It’s very hard on many new drivers.”
Rocky Duff knows a lot about big trucks, specifically tractor trailers. He’s been hauling freight since 1984.
“It’s not a job to me,” 53-year-old Duff said. “It’s a lifestyle, and something I enjoy immensely.”
Duff spent the better part of 24 years hauling freight on the open road, and, at one point, became an owner-operator. But over the years, as regulations in the trucking industry grew, he felt that the costs outweighed the benefits of the job.
“The low wages and regulations in the industry have caused a lot of folks to look at a different avenue for income,” Duff said.
Regulations include limitations to hours of service—or the maximum number of hours truckers can drive over a period of days—and required installation of Electronic Logging Devices (ELD’s), which track hours of service in real-time; as well as restrictions on overtime pay.
As a result, when he quit as an owner-operator in 2013, Duff was earning less money than when he began.
He needed a new plan and was lucky enough to find an avenue of employment that stayed true to his love of big trucks. In 2015, Duff went back to school to earn his Certified Driving Trainer (CDT) license and now is helping train the next generation of truckers and, hopefully, passing along his years of wisdom.
The federal government continues to add additional regulations and requirements to the trucking industry, further complicating employment prospects for the next generation of drivers. In 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced additional training requirements for entry-level drivers.
Starting in 2022, all new drivers must complete a training program of 31 course topics and 19 behind-the-wheel skills. It’s the first time minimum training requirements have been set in this industry.
The Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT) regulations will also require training providers to report their behind-the-wheel and classroom training hours to the DOT and to register and self-certify students.
Proponents say the new regulations will raise the professional standards for new drivers. But others, like Duff, believe they will only make entering the industry needlessly hard for would-be drivers.
“Big government is getting its hands in the training process,” he said. “With these new regulations, you’re going to have a lot of students failing classes just because the knowledge they need to pass the CDL exams is increasing.” Duff doesn’t believe the changes will make students better or safer drivers.
Barriers To Entry In The Trucking Industry
To understand how the new regulations will affect the industry, let’s first take a look at how it currently operates. Truck drivers are required to hold a special license called a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), which allows them to haul large, heavy, or placarded hazardous material vehicles in commerce.
Obtaining a CDL is similar to the average driver’s license. First, you must hold a learner’s permit. The cost of a DOT permit, and fingerprinting for a hazmat endorsement, varies across states but typically costs between $150 to $200.
After obtaining a learner’s permit, most drivers attend a training academy, although that’s not currently required. Depending on the state, costs range from $5,000 to $7,500.
After completing 4 weeks of training, drivers take written and road tests at the DMV. If they pass, drivers pay $79 to $300 for their CDL’s, depending on the state. Licenses have to be renewed periodically. For driving trainers like Duff, the cost to renew a CDT license is around $900 every three years.
“In the current system, students complete four weeks of training, are tested and then receive their CDL’s,” Duff said. “Then, they receive an additional four weeks of mentoring before they are able to drive solo. However, they are paid by the training companies during those four weeks to ease the hardship.”
Duff said he expects upfront costs to increase after the ELDT regulations take effect, and for drivers to have to wait longer before they can get paid.
He estimates new drivers should expect upfront costs to increase to about $10,000. That’s more than many younger drivers can afford.
Changes Needed Sooner, Before Things Get Worse
Duff doesn’t disagree with the need for licensing, but believes that the costs are too high given the potential wages after licensing.
Lawmakers should reform occupational licensing regulations and reconsider onerous federal regulations to remove these obstacles for the thousands truck drivers who just want to live the American dream.
“When I started in the industry, everyone wanted to drive,” Duff said. “Now, there are millions of jobs available and no one wants to drive. And I don’t blame them.”
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*Rocky Duff was the winner of IWF’s nationwide contest for Chasing Work stories. Congratulations Rocky!