Efforts announced to expedite truck driver licensing in Arkansas

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 2,355 views 

Hiring more examiners, using the Saline County Fairgrounds for skills testing, and approving overtime pay for examiners are some of the ways the Arkansas State Police and Arkansas Trucking Association are working to limit delays in getting commercial truck drivers licensed.

Trucking industry officials estimate the need for 80,000 truck drivers nationwide to meet freight shipping demands. The Arkansas Trucking Association (ATA) on Wednesday (May 25) announced the plan with the ASP to address “Staffing issues and a limited number of test sites have sidelined CDL candidates who have been forced to wait weeks to complete the skills test.”

ATA President and CEO Shannon Newton noted in a March 18 blog post she learned those who completed commercial drivers license (CDL) training faced weeks of delays in taking the CDL written test and the skills test. Newton said the approached ASP officials about the problem.

“Within six weeks of taking these complaints up the chain, the CDL examiner vacancies were filled and the sites started moving through the backlog of waiting testers. Needs remain for more positions, facilities, urgency, but this time, we were able to get loud on your behalf,” Newton wrote. “We should be celebrating the drivers acing their skills tests and stepping into their first trucking jobs, not hoping that they don’t drop out of line because the queue is too long.”

According to the ATA, following are parts of the “multi-prong” plan developed to help end or reduce delays.
• The Saline County Fairgrounds will provide temporary overflow testing beginning May 31, and continuing for 45 days.
• CDL examiners have been approved for overtime pay through the end of June.
• CDL examiners are to focus primarily on CDL testing candidates.
• The ASP will do more to fill examiner vacancies with qualified testing personnel, and will consider expanding third-party testing options.

“We commend the Arkansas State Police for implementing swift and decisive resolutions to address the backlog of CDL skills tests,” Newton said in Wednesday’s statement. “Our economy needs people to go to work and these drivers are ready and willing to do so, with the support of the Arkansas CDL examiners.”

The state action follows several national efforts to address what the industry says is a broad truck driver shortage. On March 1 the the American Trucking Associations and U.S. Department of Labor signed a deal allowing the ATA to be a registered apprenticeship sponsor. The program allows more training options for those seeking a CDL to be a truck driver.

“This is truly an earn-while-you-learn program,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “But it’s more than just a paycheck for apprentices: by participating in a registered program, they are eligible for things like child care, housing allowances, and other support as they start down this new career path.”

On Dec. 16, President Joe Biden and industry officials unveiled a “Trucking Action Plan” that includes a a 90-day apprenticeship program for employers, accelerates the issuance of commercial driver licenses (CDLs), identifies states with CDL roadblocks, and focuses on recruiting, training and retaining drivers from underrepresented communities. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would provide more than $30 million to help states expedite CDL testing and issuance.

American Trucking Associations’ Chief Economist Bob Costello said Tuesday (May 24) the For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 2% in April after rising 1.8% in March. The dip followed eight consecutive months of gains totaling 6.9%. Costello noted in the index report the industry continues to struggle with shortages.

“While I expect contract freight to outperform spot market freight, the rate of growth will be slower than in 2021. Most contract carriers are still struggling with maintaining enough capacity, both equipment and drivers,” Costello said.