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  • Henry Seaton

FMCSA drops minimum behind-the-wheel time in driver training rule

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced a final rule establishing minimum training standards for entry-level commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers seeking a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or certain endorsements. The rule, which has a compliance date of February 7, 2020, addresses the knowledge and skills necessary for the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles and establishes minimum qualifications for entities and individuals who provide entry-level driver training.

Under the final rule, applicants seeking a CDL would be required to demonstrate proficiency in knowledge training and behind-the-wheel (BTW) training on a driving range and on a public road, with training obtained from an instructional program that meets FMCSA standards.

In a major change from what FMCSA proposed in March, the agency has dropped its plan to require a minimum of 30 hours of BTW training for Class A CDLs and 15 hours of BTW training for Class B CDLs. Although those minimums technically were among the recommendations of a negotiated rulemaking committee comprised of 25 stakeholders and FMCSA representatives, the American Trucking Associations had dissented from that portion of the committee's report and supported performance-based standards rather than hours-based standards. FMCSA was persuaded by arguments from ATA and others. "In today’s final rule, the proficient completion of the BTW portions of the Class A and B curricula is based solely on the training instructor’s assessment of each driver-trainee’s individual performance of the required BTW elements of the range and public road training," FMCSA said in the final rule. In addition to new Class A and B CDL applicants, the rules requirements would apply to existing CDL holders seeking an upgrade to Class A from Class B and to CDL holders seeking endorsements to transport hazardous materials or to operate a motorcoach or school bus.

The entry-level driver training rule is effective February 6, 2017. Because this date is after Donald Trump becomes president, it could be included in a regulatory moratorium that a new president typically issues on regulations issued by a president of the other party that have not yet taken effect. It is not clear whether the Trump administration would delay or set aside the driver training rule, although its chances of survival probably increased substantially due to FMCSA's decision to drop the minimum hours of BTW training. The rule also could be overturned by Congress through a resolution of disapproval as several major rules are expected to be, but it is not clear whether that would happen.

For a copy of the final rule, click here. For more information from FMCSA, click here.

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