Court orders stronger entry-level training standards

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations governing minimum standards for entry-level truck driver training are inadequate based on the record developed during the rulemaking process, a federal appeals court ruled Friday, Dec. 2. But because the current rule “while plainly inadequate, may do some good, if it does anything at all,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is leaving it in place pending the completion of further rulemaking.

As required by a settlement with safety advocates, FMCSA in May 2004 issued long-overdue regulations implementing entry-level training requirements for drivers of commercial motor vehicles. The minimum requirements adopted involve only classroom education and in only four areas: medical qualification and drug and alcohol testing, hours-of-service rules, and wellness and whistleblower protection.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety challenged those regulations, however, saying that the agency ignored its own earlier recommendations about the need for more rigorous minimum training standards. Specifically, a major July 1995 report issued by the Federal Highway Administration – FMCSA’s predecessor – concluded that for any training program to be adequate it must include “on-street hours” of training.

The rule adopted in May 2004 “departed sharply from earlier agency recommendations,” the appeals court said. “The Adequacy Report determined that effective training for CMV drivers required practical, on-the-road instruction on how to operate a heavy vehicle. But FMCSA ignored this evidence and opted for a program that focuses on areas unrelated to the practical demands of operating a commercial motor vehicle.”

The appeals court agreed with Advocates that the sharp contrast between FMCSA’s earlier conclusions and the terms of the final rule show the agency’s actions to be “arbitrary and capricious” and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. “The agency, without coherent explanation, has promulgated a rule that is so at odds with the record assembled by DOT that the action cannot stand. Accordingly, we grant the petitions for review and remand the final rule to the agency for further rulemaking consistent with this opinion.”

For a copy of the appeals court ruling, click here.