OOIDA: Driver training proposal OK, except for 'refresher' add-on

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 4/7/2016

The long-awaited proposed rulemaking on entry-level driver training was well received by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association – all but the agency’s attempt to mandate “refresher” training for some CDL holders.

OOIDA has long advocated the need for mandated driver training for all new CDL applicants. In 2015, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration established a committee of 26 industry stakeholders – including OOIDA – to hammer out the framework of what entry-level driver training should consist of through a negotiated rulemaking process.

The Entry-Level Driver Training Committee concluded its work in June 2015 and presented its consensus final recommendation to the agency. That set the next stage of the process in motion. It was now up to the agency to flesh out the details needed to comply with the framework agreed upon by committee members.

On March 7 FMCSA published its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the Federal Register and sought comments on the proposal.

In the proposal the agency laid out the mandatory 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training recommended by the committee. The training is to consist of 10 hours on the road, 10 on the range, and the remaining 10 to be used as the training provider sees fit.

In its comments filed by OOIDA and signed by OOIDA President Jim Johnston, the Association voices its support of the 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training. While OOIDA would prefer to see much more robust training than the initial mandate being considered, the behind-the-wheel requirement found favor with the Association simply because it is “an immense improvement over the current standard, which is zero hours,” the comments state.

The proposal issued by the agency sought specific input in a number of areas, in order to flesh out what could be a final rule.

One area in particular that drew fire from OOIDA was the purported “refresher” training that was recommended by some committee members and was included in the final consensus recommendation to FMCSA.

The premise of the “refresher” training is to send drivers who have had their CDLs suspended for a litany of reasons back through a truncated driver training program. The recommendation was pushed by so-called “safety” groups and some of the training schools represented on the committee.

OOIDA opposes this recommendation, first pointing out that it is beyond the scope of the congressional mandate that eventually led to FMCSA pursuing the rulemaking. Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21stCentury, or MAP-21, dictated that the agency put together mandatory entry-level driver training. Period. It did not include the “refresher” training.

Beyond that, OOIDA asserts the agency “has made no record to support the need for or the appropriateness of refresher training.”

“OOIDA does not believe driving experience will cause a driver’s skill to deteriorate over time, but rather that it generally produces a safer driver,” the comments state.

The trigger for the retraining is a suspension of driving privileges under the disqualifications for major and serious traffic offenses laid out in 383.51.

“OOIDA is also concerned with the potential for the disqualification process to be applied to drivers when no pre or post deprivation due process was afforded a driver,” the comments state. “It would be inappropriate for disqualifications and subsequent retraining requirements to be based on merely the alleged violations in the (Motor Carrier Management Information System) database.”

Beyond the lack of due process that occurs with violations in FMCSA’s database, the variety of violations that could trigger the “refresher” training also were challenged by OOIDA.

“Many of these violations listed for disqualification could easily be due to momentary lapses in judgment and/or unintended consequences due to being in unfamiliar situations, neither of which would be corrected through additional financial and time penalties,” OOIDA comments state.

In addition to drivers facing financial ruin from the lengthy suspensions, OOIDA states that requiring “a driver, because of unfortunate and possibly unavoidable circumstances, to pay to take a refresher driving course is unwarranted and adds to an already onerous penalty.”

FMCSA is now required to consider the comments filed during the 30-day comment period and could conduct further meetings with the driver training committee to resolve conflicts and shortcomings highlighted in the comment process in order to arrive at a final rule. The agency has not yet released a timeline for the next steps in the rulemaking process.

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