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Minimum training standards for new CDL drivers proposed

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has proposed new training standards for new Class A and Class B commercial driver's license holders. The plan was recommended by a negotiated rulemaking committee of FMCSA representatives and 25 stakeholders. A notice of proposed rulemaking will be published in the March 7 Federal Register. Apparently because the proposal is the work of a negotiated consensus, FMCSA is providing only 30 days for comment until April. 6.

In addition to first-time CDL holders, meeting the minimum standards would be required for current license holders seeking an upgrade, such as moving from a Class B to Class A license or getting an additional endorsement – hazardous materials, tank truck, double or triple trailers or passenger. A previously disqualified CDL holder seeking to reacquire a license also would have to demonstrate training to the minimum standards.

Under the proposal, applicants seeking a Class A CDL – required for operating a combination tractor-trailer weighing 26,001 lbs. or more – would be required to obtain a minimum of 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training from an instructional program that meets FMCSA standards, including a minimum of 10 hours of operating the vehicle on a practice driving range. Applicants seeking a Class B CDL – required for operating a heavy straight truck (such as a dump truck or box truck) or a school bus, city transit bus, or motorcoach – would be required to obtain a minimum of 15 hours of behind-the-wheel training, including a minimum of seven hours of practice range training. FMCSA's proposal does not specify any minimum requirement for classroom training. Would-be drivers covered by the entry-level training requirements must complete a course of instruction provided by an entity that:

  • Meets the minimum qualifications for training providers;

  • Covers the curriculum;

  • Is listed on FMCSA’s proposed Training Provider Registry; and

  • Submits electronically to FMCSA the training certificate for each individual who completes the training.

In general, military drivers, farmers, and firefighters would remain exempt from federal CDL requirements.

Long time coming

In announcing the proposal, FMCSA noted that the rule responds to a Congressional mandate in the 2012 law known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21. In reality, Congress in 1991 ordered the Department of Transportation to study the effectiveness of private-sector efforts to ensure adequate training of entry-level drivers and to complete a rulemaking by Dec. 18, 1993, on the need to require such training. It didn't happen.

The Federal Highway Administration – then responsible for motor carrier regulation and enforcement – finally got around to issuing a study in 1995, and then nothing happened for more than six years. In 2002, several highway safety advocacy groups sued FMCSA to force issuance of a proposed rule. DOT settled that lawsuit by agreeing to do so

FMCSA’s response was to issue a rule requiring classroom training in four subjects – driver qualification, hours of service, driver wellness and whistleblower protection – but no behind-the-wheel training.

So the agency's critics went back to a federal appeals court, which agreed that the rule was far from adequate. FMCSA went back to the drawing board and in 2007 proposed a rule that would have required 120 hours of training – 44 behind the wheel and 76 in a classroom. The trucking industry slammed the plan, and the issue went away again until resurrected by MAP-21. FMCSA announced in August 2014 that it would bring stakeholders together for a negotiation, which occurred over six two-day meetings in February through May 2015.

For a copy of the NPRM, click here. For additional information, click here.

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