Driver training tops shared priority of OOIDA Board, FMCSA administrator

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 10/6/2016

GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. – In an informal lunch gathering at the headquarters of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a group of OOIDA Board Members and the administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration quickly found a shared top priority on their respective professional and personal agendas – driver training.

In attendance at the fourth Truck Parking Coalition roundtable meeting, which was held at OOIDA headquarters, FMCSA Administrator Scott Darling stuck around and had lunch with a number of the OOIDA Board of Directors preparing to hold their annual fall board meeting.

Darling has three priority items for his remaining time as head of FMCSA. Those priorities are to get the final rules on driver training; the drug and alcohol clearinghouse; and truck parking.

“Driver training. Let’s get that out and get it implemented,” Darling said.

Bob Lloyd, a candidate for the OOIDA Board of Directors, told the administrator that he is a certified driver trainer from Michigan and shared his experiences with the wildly varied levels of training that students receive depending on what school they go to.

“We have to get this driver training rule out to level the playing field (of training standards) across the country,” Darling responded.

OOIDA Board Member Bryan Spoon, who was a member of the Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee that was tasked with establishing the framework for the pending final rule, said that the initial final rule is “step one.”

“There is nothing in place, and this rule was designed to set the initial standards and to be built on in the future,” Spoon said.

OOIDA Board Member Miles Verhoef followed up Spoon’s explanation and asked the administrator if the agency was viewing the driver training rule the same way.

Darling agreed that building on the driver training rule should happen.

“I would hope that (the agency) would look at that as a continuous improvement kind of process, involving what’s working and what’s not working. It’s not going to happen in my next three months; I’m just trying to get the rule out,” he said.

“And any help you all can give me to get that rule out would be greatly appreciated,” he said with a laugh.

The Entry-Level Driver Training Committee was held out by Darling at various times as a success in the collaborative nature of the design. The committee was made up 26 industry stakeholders, ranging from one-truck operators to mega fleets with advocacy groups and schools represented as well.

Members of the OOIDA board pressed for even more driver input during the early stages of the rulemaking process and other FMCSA activities.

OOIDA Board Member Dick Pingel pointed out the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee as a group that needs more diversity and inclusion of drivers.

Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice president and the association’s representative on the advisory committee Pingel highlighted, agreed.

“There are three of us on that committee who have ever even driven a truck,” Spencer said. “Attorneys at the table are not experts on safety; they are experts on litigation. Enforcement officials are experts on enforcement, not safety.”

However, just being on an advisory committee isn’t enough, Spencer added.

“You have been good to include drivers in the process with listening sessions and such,” he said. “But one of the biggest frustrations we have is giving all sorts of input and not seeing any of it, or worse yet, seeing the one thing we didn’t want wind up in a final rule.”

To underscore his point, Spencer talked about the listening sessions held during the development of the latest incarnation of the hours-of-service regulations during the previous administration at the FMCSA that added the mandatory 30-minute rest breaks.

“The listening sessions, like the one held at Louisville, were attended by hundreds of drivers. They were there all day long giving their input,” Spencer said. “The points they made were completely lost. We see little evidence that anyone at the agency has a clue what drivers even do.”

Darling said that there are statutory limits on advisory panels, and the agency has to consider the makeup of the committees. But he made it clear that driver input and participation in the rulemaking process was important – again highlighting the negotiated rulemaking process.

“As long as I have a seat, there will always be advocacy on behalf of the trucking industry,” Darling said.

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