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A Concept Worth Fighting For

By on July 1, 2016

Maine High School CDL Program Unique in U.S.

The State of Maine offers a high school vocational education program centered at five regional high schools that help prepare students for a broad range of careers in many technical fields that do not require a four-year college degree. Taken as a whole, that’s not unique. Including an opportunity to earn a Class B CDL as juniors and a Class A CDL as seniors is unique.

With today’s industry driver shortage, the Maine program stands out as a concept worth fighting for. A primary reason the program still exists is a grandfathered status achieved with the support of the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee chaired by Senator Susan Collins (R – Maine). Upon graduation, the CDL program leads to in-state professional driving jobs for many graduating seniors and ultimately prepares them for the possibility of employment as interstate drivers after turning 21.

Based on federal laws that govern other states, high school students who are interested in a professional driving career don’t have the same opportunity. They must seek other ways—which can be time-consuming and costly—to qualify for a CDL after graduating from high school. With pressures to begin gainful employment, many find job opportunities in other fields. By the time they turn 21, these students have frequently selected a different career path and are less likely to aggressively seek CDL-license training for a professional driving career.


Student Driving Competition

This year’s Dick Dolloff Memorial Student Driving Competition is an excellent example of the high school program in action. Held on Wednesday, April 13 at the Augusta Civic Center, the competition is open to high school students enrolled in commercial truck driving classes. The event is organized and run by Vicki Kimball, an instructor at the Tri-County Technical Center, and sponsored by five vocational high schools with assistance from the Maine Motor Transport Association (MMTA), the Maine Professional Drivers Association (MPDA), members of the Maine State Police and State License Examiners.

The event is named in memory of Dick Dolloff, a former truck-driving instructor at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center. He was instrumental in starting this competition years ago as a fun and educational way for students interested in the transportation field to sharpen their skills and learn safe habits. The second annual Chris Broderick Memorial Pre-Trip Inspection Award was presented in honor of Chris Broderick, a Westbrook instructor and MPDA member who continued Dolloff’s efforts in the competition.

Approximately 50 students tested their skills in a two-part competition. Students conducted thorough pre-trip safety inspections administered by State Troopers. During the driving portion, students had to maneuver around obstacles similar to the requirements for passing the Maine Class B and Class A CDL driving tests. State License Examiners were on hand to help conduct the competition.

The winners received trophies, and the top-two finishers in each class from each school were invited to participate in the Future Truckers Competition held during May in conjunction with the Maine Professional Drivers Championships at Bangor. These students competed side by side with professional drivers from across the state.

In cooperation with truck dealers from across the state who donated trucks for the competition, students took the driving tests in new equipment estimated to have a retail value in excess of two million dollars. The significance of this competition was further validated by the impressive number of private carriers and governmental agencies that sent representatives and trucks from their fleets to talk with the students about immediate career opportunities and answer questions. This high degree of interest is just another indicator of the driver shortage that impacts the entire industry, whether local, statewide, regional or national.

Competition Specifics

The Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit of Troop K, Maine State Police administered the testing for knowledge of pre-trip inspection procedures that included operating components, systems, controls and safety features. The tests were conducted using the respective truck types the students would be driving. In broad terms, the testing included more than 60 items in the following categories:

  • Engine compartment
  • Cab check / engine start
  • Steering
  • Suspension
  • Brakes
  • Wheels and tires
  • Vehicle sides
  • Rear of vehicle
  • Tractor-trailer coupling (Class A)

In a group interview, the troopers stated, “This is our fourth year of being here. It’s part of our outreach initiatives to build cooperative relationships via speaking engagements and interactions at companies, schools and events like this. While safety is our first priority, we’re also interested in fostering cooperative relationships with the trucking industry. Hopefully, we’re reinforcing the need to conduct thorough inspections and fixing any problems before heading out on the road each day.”

Training Coordinator Randy DeVault of the Maine Motor Transport Association supervised course setup and reviewed the six stations used to conduct the driving portion of the test. He emphasized the importance of the student drivers recognizing how each station is set up and planning to properly position the truck as they left the prior station.

1. Side Park – must be within 18 inches of a right-side line on the ground, simulating a curb delivery and be within 4 feet of an end line at the rear of the trailer.

2. Close Left-hand Turn – rear wheels must pass within 18 inches or less of the barrel without touching it to score points. The closer you get, the higher the score.

3. Alley Dock – making a delivery to a loading dock that has one free port. Must back into a 10-ft. wide barricade and stop within 18 inches without hitting it.

4. Front Stop – must drive up to a line, 15 ft. wide, and stop within 18 inches without having the front bumper touch or pass over the line.

5. Left-hand Turn Obstacle – Must pass at least 18 inches away to earn a high score.

6. Portable Scales – Must pull on to a 4 X 8 sheet of plastic with the center line of rear axle hub (#3) stopping within 18 inches of a line on either side of center.

During a group interview, the commercial license examiners said, “We conduct the written tests, a pre-trip inspection test, and the road testing. We think it’s important to be here to demonstrate respect for the skills these students have developed and the time they’ve invested, and to let them know we handle our responsibilities in a professional, unbiased manner. Our criteria are similar to what the students are experiencing today. We have fun with this event and look forward to it.”

Four Participating Schools

Tri-County Technical Center – Vicki Kimball is the lead instructor. Students are with her every other day for a full school day. She tells students, “The commercial license is your key to earning a paycheck. Value it. Treat it with respect. Realize everything you do builds a record.” Maine requires the use of Professional Truck Driver Institute standards that are based on a minimum of 144 hours of instruction consisting of 78 in the classroom, 44 behind the wheel and 22 lab hours. “We go far beyond, usually twice that,” said Vicki.

Region 9 School of Applied Technology – Instructor Eddy Naples has a different group every 10 weeks that parallels the approach used for other courses of study. Students start by earning a Class B CDL. If that goes well, they come back for another 10 weeks to earn a Class A CDL. Four classes are conducted during the school year, and one is run during the summer. “I usually have six to eight high school students at a time,” said Naples. “Adults are also eligible to participate. I work closely with guidance counselors and outside agencies to bring qualified candidates into the program.”

Northern Penobscot Tech Region III – Thomas Baer has been training drivers for 23 years. He currently runs a program one year in length with a class of 12. Students are with him every other day. He has formed a solid working relationship with the license examiners. Those looking to recruit drivers coming out of his program frequently contact him for recommendations. “More than 25 Maine companies have hired our graduates,” said Baer. “As a nation, we’re really missing the boat by not having more high-school-based driver training programs. I really appreciate the MPDA members who are supporting our program by mentoring our kids and sharing their experiences.”

Westbrook Regional Vocational Center – Ron Welton offers a Class B course and a Class A course. Students have daily classes for two hours and fifteen minutes through the entire school year. Annual class time is about 350 hours. Driving time is usually conducted on a one-to-one basis outside of class time. “The Maine program is unique in the country,” said Welton. “We could really use similar programs all across the country. Companies are wising up to the fact that drivers are the most important assets they have.”

Special thanks are due to members of the Maine Professional Drivers Association for providing the essential items needed to conduct the Student Driving Competition, for delivering and picking up the MPDA trailer, setup and teardown, and helping conduct the competition. Participants include Matt Beck, Dick Brown, Jim Costa, Mike Coulombe, Mary Anne Cupero, Randy DeVault, Rob Fernald, Hank Jewett, Vicki Kimball, Nate Lewis, Warren Lewis, Denis Litalien, Eddy Naples, Fern Richard, Ron Round and Josh White.

What Can You Do?

If your state doesn’t have a Professional Drivers Association, that would be a good place to start. All it takes is a core group of professional drivers with a passion for the industry. Drivers advocating collectively on behalf of the industry can be a force for change. Talk with representatives of your state’s ATA affiliate. If you think the Maine high school program would be beneficial for your state, start the conversation. Talk to your elected state and federal representatives, local school boards, and state education officials. And talk with each other. Just as the MPDA stood up with others to save the Maine program in recent years, you can make progress towards changing the way our elected representatives think about truck driver training at the high school level in the other 49 states.

Learn More About MPDA

Interested in starting a professional drivers association or growing membership in your state? Learn more at MPDA.org. Better yet, you can call or e-mail the MPDA Executive Director to learn more about the organization’s formation, operation and bylaws:

Denis Litalien
MPDA Executive Director
207.468.7373 – Mobile
Director@MPDA.org – e-Mail

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