A most peculiar proposal

Imagine being responsible for a project that is almost 10 years past its deadline and suddenly you must deliver within a few weeks. For years, you hoped that no one noticed or cared that the project wasn’t done. After all, you have been struggling with more pressing matters. And the truth is, you discovered long ago that the project was far more complex and controversial than you originally thought. But after 10 years, you must deliver something.

That’s the predicament the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration faced in issuing its notice of proposed rulemaking on minimum training requirements for entry-level commercial motor vehicle operators. In 1991, Congress 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.

The Federal Highway Administration – FMCSA’s predecessor – sought public comment and issued its report to Congress more than two years after the rule was to have been completed.

There the proceeding sat for six years. Then late last year, three highway safety advocacy groups filed a lawsuit demanding that DOT complete work on several long-overdue rulemakings, including entry-level driver training. In March, DOT settled the lawsuit by agreeing to a timeline for completing the regulations.

The notice of proposed rulemaking on entry-level training issued last month skirts the real issues. FMCSA argued that because CDL testing examines the knowledge and skills drivers learn if they are trained according to the agency’s model driver training curriculum, mandatory training in those areas isn’t needed. “Such training would be redundant,” FMCSA declared.

But after 10 years, FMCSA couldn’t just say nothing was needed. So it proposes to require training in four areas not covered by CDL testing:

  • Driver qualification, including vision and hearing standards, monitoring for hypertension and disqualification due to drug use, alcoholism or epilepsy;
  • Hours of service, including the causes of fatigue and its effect on safety and sleep disorders as well as training on filling out logs;
  • Driver wellness, including awareness of obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol, exercise and alcohol and drug abuse; and
  • Whistleblower protection, including notification of the driver’s right to refuse to drive in unsafe conditions and how he can complain to the government for discrimination over reporting unsafe practices.

This training would apply to drivers with less than two years experience driving a CMV with a CDL. But to reduce the cost of the proposal, FMCSA wants to grandfather drivers who have at least a year of experience and a good driving record. Frankly, it would make more sense to grandfather drivers on the basis of a passing grade in a high school health and hygiene class.

Although FMCSA’s proposal isn’t the solution to entry-level driver preparation, I applaud the agency for wanting to keep mandatory, one-size-fits-all training to a minimum. FMCSA could achieve improvements by making the CDL knowledge and skills tests more stringent, by adopting a graduated CDL, or by using mandatory training requirements only as a remedial step for carriers that need it. It could also give carriers incentives to hire drivers trained to recognized standards, such as those endorsed by the Professional Truck Driver Institute.

However FMCSA proceeds, we can all agree on one thing: A quick education on personal health and fitness will not better prepare entry-level drivers to hit the nation’s highways.