Safety Groups Want Behind-the-Wheel Training Rule for New Truckers

By: Clarissa Hawes, Source: Trucks.com, Originally Published: 1.12.17

Highway safety advocates and independent truckers are frustrated that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration doesn’t plan to require a minimum number of hours of real-world driving for new truck drivers.

A coalition of organizations that includes Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Truck Safety Coalition and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, or CRASH, have petitioned the FMCSA to include a driving requirement in its recently issued final rule for entry-level commercial truck drivers.

The FMCSA said it didn’t include behind-the-wheel training in its rule because such a requirement didn’t make fiscal sense and its safety benefits were hard to quantify. The federal agency is required to consider a cost-benefit analysis when it issues a new rule.

“The lack of data directly linking training to improvements in safety outcomes, such as reduced crash frequency or severity, posed a challenge to the Agency,” FMCSA said in its final rule.

The FMCSA said it requested any additional data on the safety benefits of requiring 30 hours of behind the wheel training, but did not receive any information that could be used to reliably quantify safety benefits associated with pre-commercial driver’s license, or CDL, training.

The agency said adding 30 hours of driver training would reduce the frequency of crashes involving new drivers by about 3.6 percent.

However, the 30-hour minimum was included in the FMCSA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The petitioners contend that FMSCA should not have eliminated the proposed minimum training standard from the agency’s final rule issued on Dec. 6.

In its petition, the group has requested a stay of the effective date of the rule until the FMCSA Administer can render a decision on its petition. The group filed its petition for reconsideration late last month.

The lack of a minimum behind-the-wheel hours regulation “was a surprise to us because our understanding was the agency had brought industry stakeholders together to come to an agreement on some of the contentious issues regarding entry-level driver training, which included behind-the wheel minimum standards,” Peter Kurdock, director of regulatory affairs at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told Trucks.com.

Kurdock said 24 of 26 stakeholders negotiating the new regulation voted for the same minimum number of hours behind the wheel in the proposed rule, before being stripped from the final rule.

“It’s absurd that the required amount of hours behind the wheel training is zero,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade association with more than 150,000 members. “It’s totally insulting to professional truckers that have dedicated their lives to driving safely and sharing the highway with others.”

One safety group called the FMCSA’s latest attempt to produce an entry-level driver rule as “weak” and “a colossal waste of time.”

“This final rule is both insufficient in terms of advancing safety and an insult to the memories of those killed in crashed caused by inexperienced and untrained truck drivers,” said John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition. “The final rule does not mandate a minimum number of behind-the-wheel training hours, severely blunting the potential safety benefits of it.”

More than 32 states and the top CDL training schools already require new drivers complete a minimum number of hours of real-world driving. The Commercial Vehicle Training Association, or CVTA, requires its new drivers complete 40 hours of behind-the wheel training. CVTA members include more than 55 driver training schools and 20 motor carriers.

Safety groups cite studies that state commercial drivers between the ages of 19 and 20 are six times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than all truck drivers.

There needs to be some middle ground where new drivers should have significant “road time” before hitting the road with their CDLs, said Ingrid Brown, of Mountain City, Tenn., who owns the Rollin’ B trucking firm.

“There are so many skills that a new driver, who has only had classroom time and minimum road time, just doesn’t possess,” Brown told Trucks.com. “If they go to a school that just passes students with minimum training to get them in a truck and on the road for a mega-carrier – it’s not fair to the new driver – or to you or me – who share the road with them. It’s not their fault.”

Real-world road experience can’t be taught in a classroom setting alone, she said.

“In a classroom, new drivers haven’t been taught what it’s like to stop while pulling an 80,000-pound trailer or taught to slide a tandem or know how to chain up in inclement weather,” Brown told Trucks.com. “Everyone wants to blame new drivers for crashes on the road, but for the most part, they just haven’t been taught properly.”

The final rule goes into effect on Feb. 6. However, the compliance date is set for Feb. 7, 2020.

Some businesses opposed mandating a minimum behind-the-wheel training requirement. Southern California Edison Co., for example, said it prefers performance standards that require student drivers to score at least an 80 percent in their training curriculum over a minimum hour rule.

The utility has trained its own commercial drivers since 1997, said Tom Gibbs, SCE’S driver and fleet compliance manager.

The power company spends about $2,500 to train its new drivers. That would rise to about $12,300 per student – or an increase of more than $2 million annually based on its new driver needs – if the behind-the-wheel requirement becomes part of the final rule.

The company trains and tests around 200 drivers annually. SCE said it averages less than a 1 percent failure rate of new drivers when re-tested by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which is required by federal law, Gibbs said.

Gibbs said FMCSA supported SCE’s position in its comments that the minimum hour requirement would just add “costs without evidence of safety improvements.”

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