Byline: DAVID CULLEN e-mail: dcullen@primediabusiness.com

Way back when, Sinatra sang about how he was going to take it "nice and easy" and "make all the stops along the way." Well, he had another goal in mind, but the sentiment also applies to what trucking can do to start attracting new candidates to truck driving jobs that will go begging once the economy finally bursts out of its doldrums.

In prose that's not at all lyrical yet strangely compelling nonetheless, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (FMCSA) issued a notice in the February 25 edition of the Federal Register inviting the industry to comment on a series of 16 questions on implementing a graduated commercial driver's license (GCDL).

The initiative, mandated by the TEA-21 Act, is designed to ease beginners into CDL driving by controlled exposure to progressively more difficult driving experiences.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says graduated driver's licensing would help improve driving skills and help drivers acquire on-the-road experience under less risky conditions by progressing, or graduating, them through driver licensing stages before "unrestricted licensure."

According to FMCSA, the questions in the notice, developed through focus groups held with truck and bus drivers and other industry types, are intended to help determine the best way to implement a GCDL - if the agency indeed finds it beneficial in terms of safety and efficiency.

While not knowing the whys and wherefores of how this provision got slid into the latest TEA Act, it seems like common sense (and perhaps clever politicking or at least lobbying) may be responsible.

What could be better? Think about it. Trucking needs drivers. Good ones. But trucking firms - especially over-the-road fleets - are handicapped by the simple yet seemingly insurmountable fact that many, many potential candidates have started down other careers paths long before they would be eligible to seek even an entry-level commercial driving position.

Insurance carriers get a lot of the blame for that but they are simply responding to cold hard actuarial facts. Unfortunately, their attitude on this score seems only to be hardening.

Consider that Rich Clemente, program director for the Professional Truck Driving Institute of the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA) recently alerted us of a new, deeper wrinkle that demonstrates how far afield insurers are on the issue of letting their customers turn to less experienced drivers.

"It has come to our attention that some insurance companies have recently started contacting motor carriers to advise that they (the motor carrier) will not be eligible for insurance with that insurance company if the motor carrier hires entry-level drivers," reports Clemente.

"Obviously, this is of concern to TCA," he continues. "TCA would therefore greatly appreciate knowing if this has happened to you. If it has, please let us know the name of the insurance company that has taken this position and when they contacted you." (Responses to his query may be sent to rclemente@truckload.org - not to me.)

Comments on the FMCSA questions (due by the 27th of this month) will be available for public viewing at http://dms.dot.gov.

Once data from comments on the questions are evaluated, FMCSA will issue a "final report" detailing possible benefits and costs of a GCDL program. Those results will then be used to evaluate the potential for pilot-testing a GCDL.

In other words, don't wait up for us to get back to you on this one.

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