OOIDA petitions agency to add mandatory hours to driver training

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 12/30/2016

Four groups are making another run at getting actual hours behind the wheel required as part of the upcoming mandatory driver training for truck drivers seeking their CDL.

On Dec. 27, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition, and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways filed a petition for reconsideration of the final rule.

The final rule was published on Dec. 7 and will be effective starting in 2020.

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 is a result of a negotiated rulemaking. FMCSA formed a committee of 26 industry stakeholders and charged them to develop the recommended framework for the final rule on driver training.

In spite of the fact that 24 members of the negotiated rulemaking committee agreed – two members disagreed – that a minimum number of hours of behind-the-wheel training should be required, the agency landed on a final rule that did not include a required number of hours. The dissenting groups were the American Trucking Associations and the National Association of Small Trucking Companies. Neither supported any number of required hours behind the wheel.

The final 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 wheel, but said it would study the results of training without a requirement and make adjustments in the future if necessary.

The groups took exception with the exclusion of required hours behind the wheel. Especially since the negotiated rulemaking committee agreed that 30 hours behind the wheel should be required. The committee recommended 10 hours of range time, 10 hours on the road and an additional 10 hours to be split between the two as needed.

“The rule simply requires that candidates demonstrate to their instructor that they are proficient in performing a series of maneuvers while operating a CMV. In fact, the agency notes that there is no requirement that a candidate perform each skill more than once,” the petition states.

“Thus, this so-called performance-based standard requires no BTW training at all for drivers who can maneuver a truck trailer combination in an off-road setting included in the CDL skills test, exactly the same bar that CDL candidates have always been required to pass while taking the skills test administered by state licensing agencies.”

The petition argues that there is support for required hours of behind-the-wheel training both from Congress and the courts.

In 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a proposed rule for driver training for being “woefully deficient,” specifically because it failed to require behind-the-wheel hours. The court’s ruling even cited a 1995 study from the Federal Highway Administration that determined that minimum driver training criteria must include a set number of hours behind the wheel.

In 2012, Congress doubled down on its intent for FMCSA to develop a driver training rule with meaningful training in Moving Ahead for Process in the 21st Century. In that law, Congress specifically stated that any driver training regulation include a requirement of “behind-the-wheel instruction.”

The groups are requesting that the agency put the final rule on hold and consider the petition of reconsideration.

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