Federal Update
Court orders FMCSA to rewrite training rule

By Coral Beach
staff editor

Federal officials say "work has begun" in response to a court order to write a new rule for training commercial drivers, and OOIDA's leaders are optimistic that the rule will require behind-the-wheel instruction this time.

"Of course, we hope it won't take them as long this time," said Jim Johnston, OOIDA president and CEO.

The last time the feds were ordered to write a training rule for commercial drivers was 1991 when Congress directed the secretary of transportation to develop a mandatory training reg.

Thirteen years later, in 2004, the regulation was published. It did not require any instruction on how to actually drive a commercial vehicle and OOIDA filed a lawsuit against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asking that the rule be revised.

In December 2005, OOIDA and two safety groups that joined in the legal fight won the battle when the Federal Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered FMCSA to go back to the drawing board and rewrite its driver-training rule. The court did not give the federal agency any guidelines or a timeline for completing the new rule.

"It's good news that the process has begun," Johnston said in January, "but the proof is in the pudding."

As for FMCSA, the only statement an agency spokesman would make on the record regarding the new driver-training rule was less than specific.

"The court's direction will be implemented through rulemaking and will address other CDL issues mandated by SAFETEA-LU (the Highway Bill signed into law in August 2005)," said Duane DeBruyne, FMCSA's deputy director of communications.

DeBruyne said FMCSA officials did not have any other comments on the process, except to say that "work has begun."

Although the appeals court order did not specify how the agency is to do that work, Senior Circuit Court Judge Harry T. Edwards used strong language to describe how the government had failed to do its job the first time around.

In the court's opinion, Edwards wrote that FMCSA had ignored its own evidence and "entirely failed to consider important aspects of the CMV training problems . and it adopted a final rule whose terms have almost nothing to do with an 'adequate' CMV training program."

Edwards referred several times to FMCSA's own research, specifically citing a study the agency did to find out what type of training was needed.         

Edwards used FMCSA's own words from that study to condemn its driver-training rule.

The judge pointed out in the first paragraph of the 26-page opinion that FMCSA's own study "concluded . that in order for any training program to be 'adequate,' it must include 'on-street hours' of training."

"The agency, without coherent explanation, has promulgated a rule that is so at odds with the record assembled by the DOT that the action cannot stand," Edwards wrote.

The current rule, which the court indicated would remain in effect until a new one is developed, requires 10 hours of non-driving training on subjects such as how to fill out a logbook and what qualifications a person must meet to be a commercial driver.

"None of the four areas covered by the final rule . have anything to do with operational skills. Thus, they fly in the face of the (recommendations in the agency's own report,)" Edwards wrote.

".the agency's disregard of the (report) is baffling . FMCSA's efforts to portray the final rule as consistent with the (report) are fruitless."

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said that FMCSA's driver-training rule not only fails to improve safety on America's roads, it also devalues truck drivers.

Spencer said, by writing a training rule that does not require any training behind the wheel, FMCSA played into the hands of big motor carriers who want to keep truckers' pay at low levels.

By failing to acknowledge that commercial drivers need specialized training, the rule perpetuates the myth that anyone can climb into the cab of a big truck and drive it safely, which supports the idea that drivers don't deserve better pay.