SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA sues FMCSA because driver training regs don’t require driving

| 4/27/2005

Continuing its campaign to increase safety on America's roadways, OOIDA has filed suit against the FMCSA regarding its rule on entry-level truck driver training. The association is asking a federal appeals court to toss out the regs because they don't require any training in how to actually drive a commercial vehicle.

Joining with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association in the petition against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration are the United Motorcoach Association and the non-profit Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

All three groups filed their challenges to the rule in summer 2004 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, stating that they wanted to request a review of the FMCSA training rule. At the beginning of this year, the court ordered the three groups to make their arguments in one combined brief. That brief was filed Thursday, April 21.

The groups want the court to order FMCSA to revisit the issue of entry-level driver training and develop a new rule that "bears a rational connection with Congress's goal of increasing safety on our nation's highways."

In a statement filed along with the petition, OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston not only pointed out that the FMCSA's final rule actually contradicts previous statements made by the agency about the need for driver training, but that it fails to meet the 1991 congressional mandate to deal with driver training as it relates to safety.

"Knowing how to drive a commercial motor vehicle is the most important factor in its safe operation," Johnston's declaration states. "In the proliferation of regulations over truck drivers in the last five years, it is a gross oversight that no mandatory training exists to teach someone how to drive a truck as a condition for obtaining a CDL. Sometimes it seems that FMCSA is intent on regulating every aspect of a truck driver's qualifications and duties, except whether the driver really knows how to drive a truck safely."

According to OOIDA's brief, the FMCSA's final rule on entry-level driver training, which was published in May 2004, requires a total of 10 hours of training in four areas:

  1. driver qualifications (including medical examination procedures and qualifications such as vision, hearing and hypertension standards);
  2. hours of service (including causes of fatigue and how to keep a daily log);
  3. driver wellness (including diet, cholesterol and blood pressure); and
  4. whistleblower protection.
In its pre-rule study process, FMCSA reported to Congress that a model curriculum of at least 320 hours of instruction should be the basis for entry-level driver training. That 320-hour curriculum included 92.25 hours of protected off-street driving-range training and 116 hours of on-street driving.

In OOIDA's brief, the association states that FMCSA abandoned "the common-sense notion that a rule on driver training should include lessons in how to actually drive the kind of vehicle or vehicles for which the driver is being trained ... (and) it abandoned the congressional mandate that its rulemaking address that need."

And the association contends that FMCSA further diluted the opportunity to increase highway safety with training requirements by redefining entry-level drivers. The agency formerly considered all commercial drivers with less than five years of experience as entry-level drivers, but the final rule states that only interstate drivers with less than one year's experience are considered entry-level drivers.

FMCSA officials have until May 23 to file a response with the appeals court. Then OOIDA and the other petitioners will have until June 6 to reply to the FMCSA response. Ultimately, a three-judge panel from the appeals court will hear the case, but those judges have not yet been selected and no dates have been set for oral arguments.

- By Coral Beach, Land Line staff