OOIDA: Behind-the-wheel time should be required

By Jami Jones, managing editor

Four groups are making another run at getting actual hours behind the wheel required as part of the upcoming mandatory driver training for truck drivers seeking their CDL.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition, and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways filed a petition in late December 2016 requesting reconsideration of the final rule.

The final rule was published on Dec. 7, 2016, and will be effective in 2020.

The final rule details the curriculum for individuals seeking Class A and Class B CDLs to drive trucks and/or buses. Additional curriculum segments are included for specialized niches like hazardous materials.

The rule is a result of a negotiated rulemaking. FMCSA formed a committee of 26 industry stakeholders and charged them with developing the recommended framework for a driver training regulation.

The vast majority of the negotiated rulemaking committee agreed (two members disagreed) that a minimum number of hours of behind-the-wheel training should be required. However, the agency landed on a final rule that did not include a required number of hours.

The final rule does not include a specified amount of time required for behind-the-wheel training for either the range or on-road training. Instead, the agency opted for a proficiency-based approach that will accommodate individuals who learn at different paces. The trainers will be required to check off on a list of skills as each is mastered.

That deviates from the committee’s recommendation. The negotiated rulemaking committee agreed that 30 hours behind the wheel should be required. The committee recommended 10 hours of range time, 10 hours on the road, and an additional 10 hours to be split between the two as needed.

After the final recommendation was voted on with the support of all 26 members of the negotiated rulemaking committee, two members – who represented the American Trucking Associations and the National Association of Small Trucking Companies – filed letters stating opposition to a required number of hours for behind the wheel training.

The agency left mandatory hours behind the wheel out of the final rule and blamed the inability to quantify the benefit of requiring a set number of hours behind the wheel. The Agency noted that it would study the results of training without a requirement and make adjustments in the future if necessary.

That’s not enough for the petitioners.

“The rule simply requires that candidates demonstrate to their instructor that they are proficient in performing a series of maneuvers while operating a CMV. In fact, the agency notes that there is no requirement that a candidate perform each skill more than once,” the petition states.

“Thus, this so-called performance-based standard requires no BTW training at all for drivers who can maneuver a truck trailer combination in an off-road setting included in the CDL skills test, exactly the same bar that CDL candidates have always been required to pass while taking the skills test administered by state licensing agencies.”

The petition argues that there is support for required hours of behind-the-wheel training from both Congress and the courts.

In 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a proposed rule for driver training for being “woefully deficient,” specifically because it failed to require behind-the-wheel hours. The court’s ruling even cited a 1995 study from the Federal Highway Administration, which determined that minimum driver training criteria must include a set number of hours behind the wheel.

In 2012, Congress doubled down on its intent for FMCSA to develop a driver training rule with meaningful training in Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. In that law, Congress specifically stated that any driver training regulation must include a requirement of “behind-the-wheel instruction.”

The groups are requesting that the agency put the final rule on hold and consider the petition of reconsideration. LL