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  • Henry Seaton

Safety groups, OOIDA seek stronger driver training rule

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's decision to ditch a minimum number of hours in behind-the-wheel training in the final entry-level driver training rule has drawn a petition for reconsideration by several safety advocacy groups and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. Although FMCSA's proposed rule called for a minimum of 30 hours in behind-the-wheel (BTW) training for Class A commercial driver's license (CDL) applicants and a minimum of 15 hours in BTW training for Class B CDL applicants, the final rule dropped an hours-based requirement in favor of a proficiency-based requirement.

Although a final report by the Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee (ELDTAC) recommended a minimum number of hours BTW, the American Trucking Associations had dissented from that part of the report and advocated a performance-based standard such as the one FMCSA ultimately adopted. Given ATA's opposition and the potential costs, without the changes the final rule might have been invalidated by the incoming Trump administration. That outcome remains a possibility because the February 7 effective date is beyond President-elect Trump's January 20 inauguration.

In a December 21 petition, OOIDA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Truck Safety Coalition, and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways argued that final rule disregards congressional mandates, federal court precedent and recommendations by the ELDTAC. For example, the groups note that FMCSA conceded in the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that "Congress intended that the BTW training requirements be more extensive than a simple one-time demonstration of skills.”

And yet, the final rule gives the CDL instructor the flexibility to require to require the specific means or methods by which the applicant can demonstrate “proficient performance of required BTW skills,” the groups said. "Thus, the demonstration of proficient performance is entirely based on an arbitrary decision of the trainer. Although the final rule says that 'one and done' demonstration of skills proficiency is not acceptable, it is left entirely in the hands of the instructor as to when a candidate has shown proficiency thus a 'one and done' standard is not precluded."

The petition for reconsideration could be the first step toward still another lawsuit regarding entry-level driver training requirements. The issue has been bouncing around Congress, the courts and the agency for more than 25 years.

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