ORLANDO, Fla. — Charles Loftus came storming out of his house after his doorbell rang, wound up after hours of phone calls, text messages and feeling ready to give up.
Twenty-five years on the road as a flatbed driver made him used to being alone. He’d traveled to 48 states hauling equipment, missing holidays, weddings and birthday parties. He gave it all up to focus on his family a few years ago, but headlines about the nationwide driver shortage – and the promise of a pay bump from his employer if he renewed his commercial driver’s license – got him back into the game.
None of that history mattered when he called his local Tax Collector’s office, which told him he had to go back to school, side-by-side with teenagers who had never gotten behind the wheel.
“Apparently, everything changed on February 7 for CDL drivers,” he said. “No one knows what’s going on.”
New rules, new confusion
Loftus unwittingly became one of the first Floridians to become tied up in misinformation ricocheting around the industry, tied to new federal guidelines for truck driver training.
The requirement, known as Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT), had been in the works for years but were only rolled out a few weeks ago. They standardized driver training courses across the country, ensuring that new drivers had a minimum amount of training, often in the form of a 40-hour education course and several weeks of practical training.
Loftus was told by multiple agencies that, since he surrendered his CDL and it was no longer active, he would fall under the new training guidelines. A woman at a different truck driving school confirmed to Eyewitness News that only active truck drivers were exempt.
That wasn’t true.
“The ELDT regulations are not retroactive; individuals who were issued a CDL… prior to February 7, 2022 are not required to complete training,” the ELDT website states.
A form provided by the Florida Trucking Association further clarified it.
“The driver is not required to complete entry-level driver training for the previously-issued license or endorsement, even if it has since lapsed,” it read.
However, the mistake cost Loftus an entire workday sorting through red tape, only resolved when Eyewitness News connected him to employees at the regulatory agency who were able to pull up his driving record. He will still have to complete a few tests and carry a permit for 14 days before he’s cleared for a new CDL, but it won’t cost him the thousands the other training would have.
It’s not clear why multiple driving schools and tax collector employees thought otherwise. They could be mixing up the rules with drivers who only carry learner’s permits, since expired permits do not qualify. Or, they could just be unfamiliar with the newly changed rules altogether.
“This could be a simple misunderstanding with staff at tax collectors getting educated on the new rules,” Florida Trucking Association President Alix Miller said.
Another dent in the system
Throughout his interview, Loftus expressed deeply-held frustration with North America’s trucking industry. Frustrations, he said, that caused protests that have rocked Canada for weeks and led to a 90-thousand driver shortage across the United States.
His complaints came in two parts: the over-regulation of an industry by people who hold college degrees instead of driving experience, and the lack of respect truck drivers are given by consumers and politicians who rely on them.
The first objection was simple. Loftus said many of the requirements placed on drivers these days don’t make sense, or once sensible guidelines have been warped by decades of white-collar meetings and focus groups.
“Everyone up the FMCSA never drove a truck, but they’re making guidelines for us drivers,” he said, using the acronym for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the governing body of the US trucking industry. “If you’ve never been in the seat, how do you know what guidelines to make?”
He cited the decreased allowances for driving time, recalling a particularly unreasonable proposal he heard of that would’ve restricted drivers to a standard 5-day workweek. He said often, he isn’t given enough time to strap equipment down and complete safety checks – cutting into his driving hours. He also spat at the recently announced pilot program that allows teen drivers to cross state lines, wondering how anyone trained on the flat highways of Florida would be qualified to take a rig down a mountain in North Carolina.
“That’s just stupid,” he said. “You’re putting guns in the hands of kids that weigh 80,000 pounds.”
The deeper problem extended to the respect his industry receives. Truck drivers are often overlooked as a part of society – millions of men and women traveling the nation’s highways with far less visibility than police officers, politicians and teachers.
Without them, however, society would fall apart – but their frustrations over the way they’re treated are boiling over, causing many, like Loftus, to call it quits.
“Drivers are tired. If the trucks in this country shut down, this country will shut down,” he said. “[You used to] see truckers at truck stops come out of their trucks and help other drivers like it’s a family thing. They don’t do any of that anymore. Truckers don’t care anymore. And that’s sad.”
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