National driver-training standards finally approved

WASHINGTON — A new rule establishing national driver-training standards for entry-level commercial bus and truck drivers that had been delayed for five months has finally been approved.

The rule was issued late last year by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and was scheduled to take effect in February but was delayed twice to comply with President Donald Trump’s order to federal agencies to freeze new rules and to delay those published but not yet effective.

It has a three-year implementation window and only applies to drivers receiving their commercial driver’s licenses on or after Feb. 7, 2020.

The rule sets a core classroom curriculum required for driver trainees and calls for FMCSA to establish a registry of driver trainers that CDL seekers must use for their training.

It also requires behind-the-wheel training. However, it doesn’t include a 30-hour minimum requirement for behind-the-wheel training that had been included in the original version of the rule proposed by FMCSA in March 2016.

Instead, it sets a proficiency standard, to be determined by the trainers.

FMCSA appointed an Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee made up of industry officials – including Ken Presley, vice president of industry relations and COO of the United Motorcoach Association – to develop recommendations for driver-training standards.

One of the committee’s key recommendations was to establish a minimum of 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training with at least 10 hours of training on a driving range and 10 hours on the open highway.

FMCSA said it dropped that recommendation from the final rule “because, despite the best efforts of FMCSA and the Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee, we were not able to obtain sufficient quantitative data linking mandatory minimum BTW training hours with positive safety outcomes, such as crash reduction.”

“The agency has an obligation to use the least burdensome means to achieve regulatory objectives. In the agency’s judgment, a BTW training standard based solely on a driver-trainee’s proficiency in performing required range and public road maneuvers is a more flexible, and thus less burdensome, option than required minimum hours because it recognizes that driver-trainees will complete BTW training at a pace that reflects their varying levels of individual ability.”

Some industry stakeholders petitioned FMCSA to reinstate the 30-hour requirement, arguing that removing it disregards Congress’ intentions for the rule and the consensus established during rulemaking negotiations between FMCSA and the advisory committee.

They said the final rule is not in the public interest because it doesn’t advance safety beyond current practice, which allows new drivers to obtain a commercial license without being exposed to the real-world experience of driving a commercial motor vehicle on public roads while receiving instruction from a qualified instructor.

Presley disagreed with the petitioners, saying that from the time the advisory committee started work on the standards, “the 800-pound gorilla in the room was the minimum number of classroom and behind-the-wheel training hours.”

“While it has always been UMA’s position that proficiency was a sufficient means for a CDL entry-level driver student to demonstrate competency, there were many participants who advocated a significant number of hours behind the wheel,” Presley said.

“The problem with hours-based training versus proficiency is there is scant science to underpin the hours-based position, and from a pragmatic perspective a curriculum-based training is the logical conclusion. In other words, what do you want the prospective CDL driver to know?”

He said many of the advocates were concerned about the so-called “CDL mills” that seem to churn out an endless stream of drivers who can simply pass the state exam but may not have mastered the skills necessary to operate a vehicle safely.

“In the end, this was a negotiated rulemaking body,” Presley said. “The subcommittees, led by an outstanding facilitator, really worked hard to develop a curriculum that would expose a driver to most aspects of commercial vehicle driving.

“UMA negotiated for no minimum classroom hours and 15 hours of behind-the-wheel training that included range and actual road experience,” he said. “However, we were not surprised when the final rule did not reflect the minimum number of hours because of the lack of science.

“We believe the mandated curriculum is strong enough that a satisfactory number of hours are required just to cover and master the curriculum.”

Military drivers, farmers and firefighters are exempt from the final rule, FMCSA said.

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