Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) brought with it a slew of new rules and regulations. We get it — any new government regulation is complicated and confusing, especially with a name like “49 CFR 380.503.” Not to worry – we’ve been on this since the start and have sat on the panel making recommendations to the rule-making body.

We talk regularly with the experts at the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) and translated into plain English the Department of Transportation (DOT) ELDT frequently asked questions – giving you the one-stop guide you’ve been looking for.

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ELDT Essentials: Your Complete Guide to Entry-Level Driver Training Requirements 

What is ELDT and Who is Affected?

In layman’s terms, the federal government (specifically, the DOT) ruled that if you want to get a commercial driver’s license (CDL), you must first undergo training that meets certain federally mandated standards.

Training must be delivered by a qualified instructor and from an approved training provider (i.e. a CDL school, local trade group, community college, etc.). Federal ELDT requirements don’t supersede or replace any state-level requirements that exceed these minimum standards.

The ELDT ruling applies to:

  • Anyone seeking a CDL for the first time
  • Anyone seeking to upgrade their CDL (i.e. from Class B to Class A) for the first time
  • Anyone seeking a hazardous material (H), passenger (P) or school bus (S) endorsement for the first time
ELDT At A Glance
Previous Rules New ELDT Standards
CDL training and testing standards are determined by the states Sets new federal minimum standards for CDL schools
Any organization that meets state requirements can be a training provider Establishes new Training Provider Registry that CDL schools must apply to join
Training standards vary widely from state to state Standardizes 31 theory course topics and 19 behind-the-wheel skills
CDL schools must record hours spent behind-the-wheel, but no federal minimum
DMVs are responsible for testing behind-the-wheel and inspection skills. There is no written test requirement. CDL schools must administer written test and share student scores with DOT. Students must score 80% or higher to pass.
Behind-the-wheel and inspection skills still tested at state DMV
No minimum requirements for instructors Mandates new minimum qualifications for instructors

Why is ELDT Important?

Before ELDT, CDL training requirements were set by states and varied widely. As a result, many new drivers have been ill-equipped to deal with situations encountered on the road. The consequences can be devastating.

ELDT helps ensure that new drivers are adequately trained before hitting the road for the first time, making the roads safer for everyone. New drivers will now be easier to hire because there is more consistency in their training.

What’s the Process to Become an Approved Training Provider?

Only approved training providers are authorized to deliver ELDT. To become an approved training provider, you must apply to be listed in the DOT’s Training Provider Registry (TPR), otherwise known as a database of all approved training providers in the country.

It’s a common misconception that ELDT only applies to CDL schools. This isn’t true. Any company that trains entry-level people to get their CDL for the first time is subject to ELDT, including private fleets. For-profit CDL schools, non-profit community colleges, local trade organizations, private fleets running dock-to-driver programs and over-the-road fleets with their own internal CDL schools are all examples of organizations that must apply to the registry.

The Process of Becoming an Approved Training Provider

Becoming an approved training provider requires:

  • Submitting an electronic application to the Training Provider Registry
  • Self-certification that they meet all ELDT requirements
  • Affirming, under penalty of perjury, that they will only teach the prescribed ELDT curriculum
  • Documentation proving ELDT compliance in the event of an audit

Once a training provider has been accepted to the TPR, they’ll be assigned a unique training provider ID number, which will appear on a driver-trainee’s record in the Commercial Driver’s License Information System.

Individual instructors are not required to register with the TPR. Instead, it’s up to training providers to vet instructors and ensure they meet all necessary requirements.

What Does “Qualified Instructor” Mean?

According to the DOT, all ELDT instructors must meet the following qualifications:

  1. Hold a CDL of the same (or higher) class as the commercial vehicle for which they’re providing training
  2. Have at least 2 years’ experience driving a commercial vehicle of that class or have at least 2 years’ experience as a behind-the-wheel instructor for commercial vehicles.

Since rules aren’t complicated enough already, there are two exceptions:

  1. A theory instructor is not required to hold a current CDL if the instructor previously held a CDL of the same (or higher) class and meets all other qualifications
  2. If a behind-the-wheel instructor provides training solely on a range that is not a public road, a current CDL is not required if the instructor previously held a CDL of the same (or higher) class and meets all other qualifications.

It’s important to note that these requirements are in addition to any state-level requirements for CDL instruction.

What are ELDT Training Requirements?

The actual training is broken up into two portions: theory and a behind-the-wheel. Driver-trainees must demonstrate proficiency in both theory and behind-the-wheel training portions. The training must be delivered by a qualified instructor that meets the above-outlined requirements.

Let’s take it one step at a time.

ELDT Theory Portion

To meet ELDT requirements, CDL schools must educate driver-trainees in the following 30+ curriculum areas prescribed by the DOT:

Designation Visual Search Speed Management Post-Crash Procedures
Orientation Communications Space Management Maintenance
Control Systems/ Dashboard Jackknifing & Other Emergencies Handling & Documenting Cargo Hours of Service Requirements
Pre & Post-Trip Inspections Railroad-Highway Grade Crossings Environmental Compliance Issues Fatigue & Wellness Awareness
Basic Control Distracted Driving Trip Planning Roadside Inspections
Medical Requirements Extreme Driving Conditions Whistleblower/ Coercion External  Communications
Backing & Docking Night Operation Hazard Perception Skid Control/Recovery
Coupling & Uncoupling Identification & Diagnosis of Malfunctions Shifting/Operating Transmissions Drugs & Alcohol

There’s no minimum number of hours driver-trainees need to spend on the theory portion, but they must demonstrate proficiency before taking the CDL test. To demonstrate proficiency, a driver-trainee must score 80% or higher on the written or electronic assessment of the theory curriculum.

ELDT Behind the Wheel Portion

The behind-the-wheel portion is further divided into two sections: range training and public road training, with specific instruction requirements for each. ELDT doesn’t mandate a minimum number of total hours behind the wheel, but CDL schools are required to record the total amount of time students spend behind the wheel. Some states will have time requirements for behind-the-wheel training.

Instructors must assess proficiency in all the following areas, as outlined by the DOT:

Range Training (instructors must teach these activities on a driving range and not a public road)

Pre-, Enroute & Post-Trip Inspections  Alley Dock Backing (45/90 Degree) Parallel Parking  Blind Side Coupling & Uncoupling
Straight Line Backing   Off-Set Backing   Parallel Parking Sight Side  

As part of range training, instructors are also required to teach “Get Out and Look” (GOAL) to the driver-trainee for all applicable areas.

Behind the Wheel — Public Road Training (instructors must teach these activities on a public road)

 Vehicle Controls*  Visual Search  Hours of Service (HOS) Requirements Night Operation**
Shifting/Transmission Speed & Space Management Hazard Perception** Extreme Driving Conditions**
Communications/ Signaling Safe Driver Behavior Railroad (RR)-Highway Grade Crossing** Skid Control/Recovery, Jackknifing, & Other Emergencies**

* Including: Left turn, right turn, lane changes, curves at highway speeds as well as entry and Exit on the interstate or controlled access highway
** These skills must be discussed during public road training, but driver-trainees are not required to demonstrate proficiency in them. 

Both range and public road behind-the-wheel training must take place in a vehicle that represents the CDL class or endorsement being sought instead of a simulator. This is not to be confused with the fact that simulators can be used in the theory portion. If the driver-trainee is seeking a Class A license, their behind-the-wheel training has to take place in a Class A commercial vehicle.

Prepare your Drivers for the Future, Today

Want to learn more about what an effective and compliant ELDT program must include? Download our free guide to find out! 


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