SPECIAL REPORT: Court tells FMCSA to produce a training rule that requires behind-the-wheel training

| 12/2/2005

A federal appeals court has ruled that the FMCSA's driver-training rule is "patently illogical" and on Friday ordered the agency to take the rule back to the drawing board.

The Dec. 2 ruling is a major victory in the battle to increase safety on America's highways, according to officials at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. It's also a victory in elevating the stature and recognizing the professionalism of existing good, safe drivers, said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

The Association and two safety advocate groups filed the federal lawsuit against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2004 because its rule, published that year, does not require any training behind the wheel.

OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston, who has been pushing for driver training requirements since the early '80s, said the ruling is a major step, but cautioned that the issue is not yet completely resolved.

"It's not a real victory until a comprehensive training rule is published," Johnston said, adding that it took the feds decades to come up with the current rule.

"We want a comprehensive driver training program that teaches guys to drive the types of vehicles they will be driving on the road . I would also like to see an apprentice program."

Senior Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards used strong language in writing the ruling for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He wrote that the FMCSA ignored its own evidence and "entirely failed to consider important aspects of the CMV training problems . and it adopted a final rule whose terms have almost nothing to do with an 'adequate' CMV training program."

The court did not give the FMCSA a deadline or schedule for rewriting the driver-training rule.

The rule in question was mandated by Congress in 1991, but it took the federal agency 13 years to write it. During those 13 years, the agency did a study to find out what type of training was needed.

Judge Edwards used the FMCSA's own words from that study to condemn the driver-training rule. The judge pointed out in the first paragraph of the 26-page ruling that the FMCSA's own study "concluded . that in order for any training program to be 'adequate,' it must include 'on-street hours' of training."

The ruling repeatedly refers to the agency's failure to use its own evidence.

"The agency, without coherent explanation, has promulgated a rule that is so at odds with the record assembled by the DOT that the action cannot stand," Judge Edwards wrote. "Accordingly we grant the petitions for review and remand the final rule to the agency for further rulemaking consistent with this opinion.

". the final rule completely ignores the (agency's) study's emphasis on practical, on-the-road training. The agency has adopted a rule with little apparent connection to the inadequacies it purports to address."

The current rule, which the court indicated would remain in effect until a new one is developed, requires 10 hours of non-driving training on subjects such as how to fill out a logbook and what qualifications a person must meet to be a commercial driver.

"None of the four areas covered by the final rule . have anything to do with operational skills. Thus they fly in the face of the (recommendations in the agency's own report,)" Judge Edwards wrote.

".the agency's disregard of the (report) is baffling . FMCSA's efforts to portray the final rule as consistent with the (report) are fruitless."

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said Friday that the FMCSA's driver-training rule not only fails to improve safety on America's roads, it also devalues truck drivers.

Spencer said that by writing a training rule that does not require any training behind the wheel the FMCSA played into the hands of big motor carriers who want to keep truckers' pay at low levels. By failing to acknowledge that commercial drivers need specialized training the rule perpetuates the myth that anyone can climb into the cab of a big truck and drive it safely, which supports the idea that drivers don't deserve better pay.

- By Coral Beach, staff editor