FMCSA opts for proficiency-based driver training requirement

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 12/7/2016

For the first time ever, men and women who want to become truck drivers will first have to successfully complete driver training – albeit without any set time behind the wheel – before getting their CDLs. The rule is effective starting in 2020.

It was 30-plus years in the making, but a driver training regulation will officially be a done deal on Thursday, Dec. 7, when the final rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration publishes in the Federal Register.

The final rule details the curriculum for individuals seeking Class A and Class B CDLs to drive trucks and/or buses. Additional curriculum segments are included for specialized niches like hazardous materials.

The rule does not include a specified amount of time required for behind-the-wheel training for either the range or on-road training. Instead, the agency opted for a proficiency-based approach that will accommodate individuals who learn at different paces. The trainers will be required to check off on a list of skills as each is mastered.

The agency blamed the inability to quantify the benefit of requiring a set number of hours behind the wheels, but said it would study the results of training without a requirement and make adjustments in the future if necessary.

The regulation also will restrict those who can train entry-level drivers to those registered with the agency. The registry will allow the agency to track successes, and failures, of training providers. Trainers with substandard performance can face removal from the registry and would no longer be permitted to train new drivers.

“We have a first step. Yesterday there was no driver training regulation, and we now have one. We are disappointed this rule doesn’t address behind the wheel training as instructed by Congress and will continue to work with the agency to see the follow-up and evaluation of training provided as promised in the rule,” said Laura O’Neill-Kaumo, OOIDA director of government affairs.

“We will continue to build upon what has been produced as a result of the negotiated rulemaking, but will also continue to push for DOT to require behind-the-wheel education.”

The final rule is the end-result of a negotiated rulemaking process. FMCSA opted to go through the “reg neg” process rather than traditional rulemaking procedures because of the history of the embattled regulation.

The first attempt at a driver training rule happened in 2004. It did not require any instruction on how to actually drive a commercial vehicle and OOIDA filed a lawsuit against FMCSA asking that the rule be revised.

In December 2005, OOIDA and two safety groups that joined in the legal fight won the battle when the Federal Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered FMCSA to go back to the drawing board and rewrite its driver-training rule. The court did not give the federal agency any guidelines or a timeline for completing the new rule.

The agency took another shot at a driver training rule in 2007 with a proposal that stalled for a few years. The agency held some listening sessions to gather input on what quality driver training would include. Over that same period of time, Congress stepped in again and threw down the gauntlet for a driver training rule in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, signed into law in 2013.

That proved to be too much for the FMCSA’s 2007 proposal. In September 2013, the agency withdrew the proposal. The notice stated that the proposed rulemaking, published in 2007, was withdrawn because of issues raised at the listening sessions earlier that year and new directives contained in MAP-21.

The agency claimed it would be “inappropriate” to move forward with a final rule that would be based, in part, on the notice of proposed rulemaking. The agency concluded that a new rulemaking should be initiated in lieu of completing the 2007 rulemaking.

That’s when the negotiated rulemaking came into play. FMCSA opted to employ the alternate process in 2014. A negotiated rulemaking is a process that uses a hired moderator or “convener” who meets with stakeholder groups and reports their input to the administration for consideration in developing a possible rule.

The committee of 26 industry stakeholders, including OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Scott Grenerth, was convened and met six times in early 2015 to establish the framework of the rule.

The participants reached consensus on the final report submitted to FMCSA on driver training, except for one thing: hours required behind the wheel.

The American Trucking Associations and the National Association of Small Trucking Companies both recorded dissenting votes on requiring a set minimum number of hours that drivers should be trained behind the wheel. Both argued that performance- or proficiency-based training was sufficient.

Although 30 hours was recommended for behind-the-wheel training by the negotiated rulemaking committee and the agency proposed such, the final rule did not establish a set number of hours for training behind the wheel.

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