What do you think? Would it be okay with you if people just learning to drive, that held only a learners permit and who had little to zero highway experience, could legally operate an 80,000 lb. vehicle for work in a 24/7 operation while their “on-the-job” instructor slept and was not sitting in the front passenger seat to observe and teach them?
That is a pretty scary thought, isn’t it?
Unknowingly to many, this is exactly what is happening within the trucking industry TODAY.
Does it sound safe to you? Whether the learners permit holder is a teenager, a newly licensed adult or a commercial learner permit (CLP) holder, a written test is all that an individual is required to pass in order to receive any kind of learner’s permit. It is only a permit to learn the driving portion requirements for the designated license with an instructor; it does not signify the ability or aptitude to drive. While a finals skills test is the ticket for a CLP holder to become a commercial driver’s license (CDL) holder, it does not mean that the individual actually knows how to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) moving real paying freight loads on the open highway.
Background on CDL training for CMV drivers:
For over 20 years, many within the trucking industry have been seriously concerned about the entry level training standards for CMV drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is the regulating body over the trucking industry has also recognized that there is a lack proper training standards.
In 2014 the FMCSA announced that there was need to establish truck driver training standards since few requirements were in existence. They established the Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee (ELDTAC) to conduct a negotiated rulemaking on entry-level training for drivers of commercial motor vehicles.
– See more at: “About the Entry-Level Driver Training Committee”
The ELDTAC committee is still working on a rule to IMPROVE training standards. Ironically, CRST Van Expedited of Cedar Rapids, Iowa has requested an exemption from the FMCSA in regards to the very same existing training procedures which are in question by the FMCSA that are making our national highways less safe rather the improving safety. While it may seem obvious that the FMCSA would soundly reject such a request, the truth is that they have granted another carrier in the same class as CRST this type of exemption despite broad public opposition. The exemption request letter submitted by CRST Van Expedited of Cedar Rapids, Iowa to the FMCSA asks to grant permission so that CRST commercial learner permit CLP holders may operate a tractor-trailer while another CDL Holder is in the truck but not in the passenger seat. In the letter that CRST Van Expedited wrote to the FMCSA, they stated that the CLP holder will have completed a skills test which would entitle the student to return to their home state to receive their actual hard copy commercial driver’s license CDL but they claim that it is a financial hardship for them to do this, and that they are losing “control” of the student. Therefore, CRST is requesting a safety exemption. CRST goes on to request that the FMCSA allow them to let the CLP holder be able to drive on the learner permit for the duration that it is valid, which can be several months.
Please understand something: CRST Van Expedited operates a “team driving” business model. This means that they have established customers who want their freight moved 24/7 without stopping for sleep breaks. That means that the entire operation is based on freight moving fast. Student truckers work from day one at CRST to make a profit for CRST. These students often choose CRST because they cannot afford to pay for truck driving school on their own and they want to learn to drive a truck. They agree to repay their tuition in exchange to learn on the job. The debt they incur to CRST is about $6500.00 which is comprised of food, lodging and instruction to become a qualified truck driver.
The internet is littered with complaints about CRST Van Expedited training practices, they are easy to find, just Google “CRST Complaints” and start reading.
This morning I spoke to a female trucker who is still in her 1st year of trucking. She has finally been able to get out of the clutches of CRST Van Expedited. I told her about the exemption request and she said none of it made sense to her because she came to them with her hard copy CDL in hand which meant she had only driven around the block a few times at her CDL School in Florida. She said the testers at the state facility included a former CRST employee who was really easy to pass students. She said there were people being sent on public transportation (Greyhound) back and forth before they were even hired for things like not having a background clearance by the company before arriving at their facility, so why is CRST claiming a “financial hardship” to send their graduate CLP student’s home on public transportation in the exemption letter to the FMCSA?
Here are a few other things I learned from this student:
There is no pay during CDL training while they are a CLP holder. The student is charged for lodging and food in addition to the tuition. The students are told the tuition repayment will be $40 a check but in reality it is $80.00 a week since they are paid twice a week. The first few weeks the students have no check at all so they are pretty broke and their personal bills are going unpaid. In her case it was about 5 weeks before she got her first check.
So how much is the pay? She said it was about .24 CPM range but that amount was split so she got about .12 cents per mile. If you are not a trucker you may not understand the way many truck drivers are paid which is only when the wheels are turning and mostly not every single mile at that! Here is an example: her first week she did about 2400 miles with her trainer so let’s do some simple math: 2400 miles x .13 CPM = $312.00 gross pay. Let’s say her taxes were about $18.15 and take out her $80.00 tuition payment: $312.00 – $18.15 – $80.00 = $213.85 net pay after going 5 weeks of no pay and letting her bills get behind.
She said that her and her trainer did a lot of sitting since her trainer was pretty unmotivated, an owner operator that got paid by the load. Still, she had been away from home all of this time so technically she was at work 24/7. If they had been running team miles she could log legally 70 hours and so could her trainer.
When I asked her how much time her trainer sat in the passenger seat supervising her, she said none. She said that when she got on her trainer’s truck she drove from day one at night until after midnight unsupervised which was technically against company policy. Is this an isolated incident? Not according to the vast driver complaints available on the internet from past CRST students.
This particular student ended up quitting CRST after a number of unsafe situations occurred. The problem though was that she wanted to keep driving someplace else and no one would hire her because she left CRST before her debt to them was repaid. Remember, they bill each student like her $6500.00 for their “training”, food and lodging.
For months she tried to get hired at other carriers but when the prospective employers heard the letters “CRST” they said they could not hire her. She had been blacklisted.
It took threatening litigation for some of the things that were done to her to get CRST to release her from her contract to them. She wants to drive and work, not sue the carrier, nor does she want to be blacklisted by the trucking industry.
When I applied what I learned from her to the letter CRST wrote to the FMCSA for an exemption to safety I saw that CRST wants to control more students who quit on them before they have repaid their debt rather than address their poor training and they want the federal government to help them do that.
The “Skills Test” that CRST claims makes the CLP holder qualified to drive on is only a test after just a few weeks of driving the truck at a fenced in yard and going around the block a few times. It is not open road 18 wheeler driving experience with passenger cars whipping and weaving around you and cutting you off.
Of course CRST is entitled to get their tuition investment back from the students they are sponsoring but if those students are not really getting the instruction they thought they were paying for and they are scared to death by the situations they are being placed in they probably do not feel they should have to pay for an education they did not get.
Let’s all understand that a written test is all that is required to issue a commercial learner permit CLP. The FMCSA itself confirms that a few weeks of instruction does not constitute qualified truck driving for the open highway.
Student/Trainees overwhelmingly report that they are pushed to drive “team” right after passing a their “skills test” but some say that there was methodical coaching given to them during the test and that they really didn’t understand what they were doing to the extent that they could operate the truck alone.
The exemption request letter from CRST to the FMCSA asks to legally sanction CLP holders who have passed such a “Skills Test” and who have no open road driving experience to operate the truck with another Commercial Driver’s License CDL holder that is not required to be in the passenger seat. The exemption request letter does not specify if the CDL holder would be a trainer. Since CRST is known to allow two students to do team-driving I think this is important to clarify.
CRST claims in the letter to be seeking the exemption to safety due to financial hardship for transporting CLP holder’s home on a Greyhound bus to get their hard copy CDL. They go on to claim that the exemption will be a “…equivalent level of safety that is greater or equal to the level of safety provided under the current regulations…” though they offer no data, studies, safety statistics or financial documentation to support such remarks.
One part of the letter mentions a “…severe shortage of qualified and well-trained drivers…”, though the CRST business model is not reliant on qualified and well-trained drivers to move their freight. Instead, they rely on new entrants who are a low wage, exploitable workforce with very little truck driving skill that are indebted to them in exchange for an education to become qualified drivers. They are also not producing a significant number of well-trained qualified drivers from their program.
Another concern I see in the exemption request is that CRST asks the FMCSA to allow the CLP holders to drive in a team driving situation with another “CDL holder” for potentially as long as the CLP is valid which can be several months.
This could create an obstacle for the student later if they decide to quit. These are students who have been away from home already for several weeks with no pay. They are entitled to some home time. The argument CRST presents in the exemption letter about delays at state DMV facilities for students to get appointments makes no sense to whether the “CDL Holder” should be in the passenger seat supervising or in the sleeper not supervising them. This has no impact on how fast someone can get an appointment at a State DMV.
What this exemption can do is help CRST control student truckers who have a tuition debt to them. It can prevent students who are being trained in an unsafe manner from quitting and going to work someplace who will train them the right way to be a qualified driver. It can make them more un-hirable elsewhere since they really do not have their CDL yet. It encourages student truckers to be unsafe because they have no other choice and it increases CRST Van Expedited profits.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is supposed to be overhauling the entry-level driver training system to improve safety standards, therefore they must not grant such exemptions that degrade and compromise safety for certain carriers like CR England who they have already granted this exemption despite broad opposition and CRST Van Expedited who both operate a “Team Driving” business model using student trucker labor.
If you believe the FMCSA should NOT grant this exemption to CRST Van Expedited, please sign this petition on “We the People” and do not forget to validate your signature by checking your email after you sign and clicking the correct link that will validate your email address. If you did not get a validation email please check your spam folder for it.
Thanks for Reading.
You can read the actual letter CRST Van Expedited wrote to the FMCSA to request this exemption with this link: