Arkansas truck driving students have had a problem. There were too many of them ready to take the state’s skills test to earn their commercial driving licenses for the number of examiners or exam slots available. So potential drivers were waiting an average of three weeks to be tested, a lengthy period for those who had left a job or were unemployed. There’s also concern about the deterioration of the skills they had learned in driving school.
“We had some of our students scheduled for orientation at Arkansas carriers and we couldn’t get 'em tested so the carriers [complained],” said Bruce Busada, president of the Diesel Driving Academy in Little Rock. “Everybody’s cutting budgets, but these states don’t realize they’re hurting themselves more when they cut something like this because they’re keeping people in their own state from getting high-paying jobs.”
The Arkansas Trucking Association was alerted by some of its members “about the delays, issues and inconsistencies with trying to get their students tested, which has been going on for quite some time,” said the association's president, Shannon Newton, who noted that in November 2015, Arkansas stopped certifying third-party testers because the state didn’t have enough resources to adequately audit any more.
“The issue came back this summer when a carrier member told us they had students they had sponsored who were being sent home because they can’t test for another three weeks, with some waiting as much as six weeks,” Newton said. “That’s a killer in terms of getting these individuals in trucks.”
So Newton contacted the office of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and soon, the Arkansas State Police, which operates the state's six driving-test locations and oversees its 37 third-party testing sites, took action.
“This has been a concern for us,” state Trooper Liz Chapman said. “We want to make sure that we’re helping the trucking industry, and we’re getting their licenses in time. Our examiners aren’t allowed to give more than four exams a day so we’re planning to bring one on board in Little Rock and another one in [Fayetteville] soon. And we’re about to launch a help desk so that people can get scheduled anywhere in the state instead of having to call different locations. The help desk will tell them what the waiting period will be at each one.”
Busada and Newton have their fingers crossed that the problem has been solved.
“Arkansas has improved,” Busada said. “The most you’ll have is a two-week wait, but this is the slower part of the year so there’s less testing. If they can get some people hired by springtime, everything should be good. They need to have enough people to handle all the skills testing.”