A bill nearing completion in the California Legislature is intended to improve safety on the state’s roadways by implementing new federal commercial driver regulations. Additional truck driver safety requirements would also be added.
The Assembly Transportation Committee voted unanimously to advance a Senate-approved bill to implement a federal rule that requires people seeking a commercial driver’s license to complete a certified course of instruction from a commercial driving institution or program offered by an employer before being issued a license.
Specifically, the Department of Motor Vehicles would be required to adopt regulations to comply with the federal rule by June 5, 2020. SB158 would also establish minimum behind-the-wheel training requirements to be completed as part of CDL training.
Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, said the state must act to ensure that commercial truck and bus drivers are being held to the highest safety standards.
“SB158 is a sensible measure that will help save lives by requiring drivers of big rigs and other large commercial vehicles to have driving experience prior to being licensed in California,” Monning said in prepared remarks.
The bill sponsor has highlighted data from the California Highway Patrol that shows 10,062 at-fault commercial vehicle collisions reported in 2014, of which 2,432 resulted in injury and 68 were fatal.
Monning has singled out a 2014 crash on Highway 17 when a truck crashed into 10 vehicles, injuring seven and killing Daniel McGuire of Santa Cruz, Calif. He added that the driver’s lack of adequate training and experience were deemed a major factor in the incident.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports the legislation. The trucker’s group claims 5,562 members residing in the state and thousands more who operate on the California highways each day.
Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of government affairs, said the Association supports the development of national entry-level driver training standards for CDL applicants.
He has pointed out that a final rule on entry-level driver training standards published in December 2016 by the feds does not include a minimum number of hours of behind-the-wheel instruction.
“While the final rule will improve driver training and highway safety, it does not include a requirement that CDL applicants receive a minimum number of hours of behind-the-wheel instruction.”
Matousek adds that Monning’s bill would address the oversight by requiring CDL applicants in California to complete a minimum number of hours behind the wheel of a truck.
Class A license applicants would need to complete 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training, of which 10 hours must be at an off-highway facility and 10 hours must be on public roads. An applicant participating in an employer testing program would need to complete 15 hours of behind-the-wheel testing.
Class B license applicants would need to complete 15 hours of driving, of which seven hours must be on public roads.
Every 50 minutes of driving would be deemed to be one hour of training.
SB158 awaits further consideration in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. If approved by the full Assembly, the Senate would need to sign off on changes before it could head to the governor’s desk.
The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee approved another amended bill to reduce wait times for CDL testing. The Assembly approved a similar version by unanimous consent.
California has 23 DMV locations that offer CDL testing. A survey of testing sites one year ago found that wait times ranged from 19 business days to 61 business days, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill. In December 2016, 17 of the 23 driving test locations had wait times longer than three weeks. Montebello had a wait time of 65 business days.
Advocates say some students have waited as long as 12 weeks for a test date. As a result, they say students lose out on job opportunities, and the state loses out on economic activity.
“As trucks sit idle and new drivers wait for their test, millions of dollars in economic opportunity are lost,” Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, stated. “It’s time we provide the DMV with the resources it needs to help truck drivers get on the road.”
The DMV has taken steps to reduce wait times. Actions taken include offering driving tests on Saturdays and implementing an online appointment system.
The bill would ultimately require the DMV to test trained truck and bus drivers within seven days after they request an appointment.
Wait time must be no more than 14 days by July 1, 2019, and no more than one week by July 1, 2021.
The DMV would also be required to report to the Legislature by January 2019 about how they plan to achieve the seven-day maximum wait time.
The bill, AB301, is in the Senate Appropriations Committee. If approved by the full chamber, the amended bill would move back to the Assembly to agree to changes before going to the governor.
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