Illinois Secretary of State proposes cutting training hours required for commercial driver's license

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Despite having one of the better safety records for commercial drivers in the country, Illinois recently considered rolling back requirements for many truck and bus drivers.

The I-Team began looking into this question of safety last month when we learned that Illinois Secretary of State officials had, in writing, a proposed plan to chop the number of required training hours in half for many commercial driver's license students.

It was especially puzzling because since the early1990's, Illinois has had one of the most stringent training requirements and among the lowest truck accident rates.

But in January the agency wrote a rule change that would reduce by 50% the training required for new truck drivers, from 160 hours to 80 hours.

The proposed regulation could have left more than a third of all newly licensed Illinois truckers with far less training than now required. The review of current requirements set off alarms among businesses that train and teach new drivers how to operate trucks safely on all roadways.

Steve Gold, the CEO and founder of 160 Diving Academy based in suburban Chicago, found out about the proposed change in an email.

"It was to all commercial truck driving schools in the state of Illinois," said Gold, "I think we all shook our heads and wondered what is going on? Why would the state want to do that?"

Gold claimed most companies don't want to hire new drivers with anything less than a guaranteed 160 hours of instruction. Many driving schools maintain more teaching time produces safer drivers.

"I don't think cutting the number of hours are gonna achieve anything but putting the general public at risk and putting us all at risk," said Gold.

Estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show fatalities involving large trucks were down in 2020 despite an overall increase in traffic deaths nationwide.

A spokesperson with the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, which represents truck driving schools across the U.S., also expressed concern about the idea of rolling back training hours.

"Illinois ranked among the lowest states for truck and bus highway fatalities. Thirty-third lowest state for heavy duty truck and bus fatalitie,s and that's according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. And that is an incredible record," said Bailey Wood, CEO and president of CVTA.

The I-Team contacted the Secretary of State's Office about the submitted change. Secretary of State Jesse White instituted commercial driver's license reforms decades ago, following a fiery crash that killed six children in 1994 and exposed a network of bribes-for-licenses uncovered by the I-Team that ended up landing White's predecessor, Governor George Ryan, in federal prison.

The proposed rule would have also cut the bus driver training requirement from 160 to 40 hours.

After the I-Team reached out to White's office, we were told the reduced CDL training plan was being withdrawn.

Kevin Dusterhuase, the longtime manager of the state's CDL program, explained that with shortage of drivers in Illinois and elsewhere, the agency needed to look at everything on the table and consider if changes were needed.

"I think with the federal government not having any minimal hours at all, a lot of states around us didn't have any hours at all either, so we looked at it. That's why we kinda kicked it around, maybe see if we wanted to lower it or not . We weren't really for sure," he said. "We had some that were obviously for it and some that were against it."

What set off the state's own review was new federal oversight that went into effect a month ago. For the first time, across the country, all entry level CDL drivers must meet the same standards, but the rule imposes no set requirements for behind-the-wheel training. States that certify driving programs have the option to set their own driving hours.

"We internally polled it, discussed it for many hours and we decided to stay with 160. We had our own data and we wanted to stay with the stringent law," said Duesterhuas, "One hundred-sixty hours; it's worked all this time and that is why we stuck with it."

When White retires this year and a new secretary of state is elected, will the cut-down CDL training plan resurface? Duesterhuas said he couldn't speculate.

"I really can't guess what's gonna go on. You know, the next administration or two or three years down the road. I really don't know. No," he answered.

Eric Crump, a truck company owner and CDL student, said he didn't mind the 160 hours of training because he sees it as a matter of safety. His advice for any government officials thinking about cutting hours for truck drivers is simple.

"Don't do it. Do not lower the standards. The standards were put in place for a reason," he said.
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