OOIDA says FMCSA 'missed the boat' with driver training issue

| Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Contending that its driver-training rule does not need to include any actual training in how to drive a commercial motor vehicle, the FMCSA “missed the boat” with one of its arguments and ignored its own evidence, according to OOIDA’s legal team.

The arguments from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration were in response to a suit filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals by OOIDA and two other organizations. The suit asks the court to order the FMCSA to go back to the drawing board and develop an entry-level driver-training rule that includes requirements for actual training behind the wheel.

In their defense, officials with the federal agency said in their response to the suit that the driver-training rule was only one part of a six-part strategy to improve safety on America’s highways. However, none of the other five parts include any actual training of drivers. They also contend that the FMCSA, and all federal agencies, have discretion in implementing solutions to problems under their jurisdiction.

“They missed the boat with that,” said Attorney Paul Cullen Jr. of The Cullen Law Firm in Washington, DC.

“It is true that under their administrative duties an agency can address issues in many ways, but Congress didn’t say ‘under your administrative duties.’ ”

Cullen said in OOIDA’s response to the FMCSA’s claims – which was filed yesterday, June 6 – the association pointed to the specific mandate from Congress regarding the entry-level driver training rule. In 1991, Congress included the training mandate in legislation known as ISTEA, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. The mandate gave the federal agency 24 months to come up with a training rule.

Thirteen years later, in May 2004, the FMCSA published its driver-training rule. It requires a total of 10 hours of training on four non-driving topics: driver qualifications; hours of service; driver wellness; and whistleblower protection.

Cullen said not only does the specific mandate from Congress supercede the FMCSA’s usual operating routine, but that the four areas of instruction required by the training rule ignore the agency’s own data and evidence.

“The agency can’t ignore the evidence in the record,” Cullen told Land Line on June 6.

That evidence shows that 69 percent of drivers are not adequately trained in how to actually operate a commercial motor vehicle. It also includes a cost-benefit analysis that shows increased training behind the wheel would save more money than it would cost in the long run.

The next step in the legal action is for the three-judge panel of the Appeals Court to set a date to hear oral arguments. Cullen said he expects that to happen some time this fall, with each side likely having an hour or less to present its case.

– By Coral Beach, staff editor