WASHINGTON — Regulators have denied a New Hampshire prison inmate an exemption from certain training requirements that he had sought on behalf of himself and fellow inmates seeking truck driver jobs after they are released.

Robert Towle, an inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, requested that people graduating from the New Hampshire Department of Corrections Special School District’s Granite State High School (GSHS) be exempt from a requirement that their CDL training provider use instructors who meet the definition of ‘‘theory instructor.’’

He also asked that they be exempt from the requirement that first-time applicants for a Class A or B CDL — or those who upgrade to a Class A or B CDL — complete training from a training provider listed on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Training Provider Registry (TPR).

“The two exemptions are requested to allow for eligible students to receive the requisite theory instruction in order to examine for their Commercial Driver Learner Permit towards job readiness as part of their community re-entry plan,” Towle stated in his June 2022 application.

In a decision posted on Tuesday, however, FMCSA ruled that the required two years’ experience in operating a commercial vehicle for which training is to be provided, or in providing behind-the-wheel instruction, is essential for entry-level driver theory instruction.

“These core qualification requirements are embedded in the definition of ‘theory instructor’ and, under [federal regulations], ELDT [entry-level driver training] providers must use theory instructors meeting the criteria” set forth in the regulations, the agency stated in denying Towle’s request.

FMCSA also noted Towle’s assertion that an equivalent level of safety would be achieved if he were granted the exemption, because New Hampshire is participating in a CDL skills test pilot program that provides a “comparable level of rigor” to the current CDL skills test.

“The State’s participation in the pilot program, however, is entirely unrelated to the requirement that a CDL applicant receive theory training from a provider listed on the TPR,” FMCSA stated.

“The TPR is a critical piece of the ELDT program, ensuring that ELDT providers meet the eligibility requirements. The TPR, by receiving and retaining driver certification information from training providers and relaying it to states prior to the issuance of a Class A or Class B, also ensures that individual CDL applicants receive ELDT from a qualified training provider.”

The Truck Safety Coalition agreed with FMCSA’s assessment, also pointing out that “it is regrettable” that GSHS failed to continue offering CDL training without meeting FMCSA’s updated ELDT requirements, which went into effect last year.

“GSHS should absolutely be doing everything possible to set inmates up for re-entry success, including vocational education opportunities,” the group stated.

“However, reducing the experience level and quality of training provided by verified, qualified instructors unnecessarily risks the lives of all roadway users and fails to provide Mr. Towle with the quality of education needed to best set him up for success as a professional truck driver. The best course of action for all parties is for GSHS to take the measures necessary to fully comply with ELDT training requirements in the provision of its CDL training class.”

Another commenter noted, “Please do not further disadvantage the participating inmates by subjecting them to instruction that does not meet current standards and may not be recognized by employers, and thus may not properly prepare them for their new profession. Instead, the program should do what they need to do to comply with the same regulations and standards everyone else must meet.”

Related articles:

UPS fails in second shot at bypassing driver-trainer rules

Last call for compliance: 5 musts to meet new driver training standards

FMCSA takes heat for driver training delay

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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